Monday night, a forum was held on the affordability of attending college. Congressman Joe Courtney from Connecticut’s second district, Congressman John Larson of Connecticut’s first district and State Representative Gregg Haddad convened in Oak Hall to inform students as to the action currently being discussed on the state and federal level and to take questions from the students in attendance.
The bills in question are HR 3538, an Affordable Student Textbook Act and the House version of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Bill that, if passed, would allow for students to refinance all of the debt incurred through pursuing a higher education. The proposed interest rate would only be 3.8 percent as opposed to the 6-9 percent offered by private interests currently.
Congressman Courtney is the lead sponsor on this bill and is a member of the House Education and Workforce committee, which is proposing this bill. Congressman Larson serves as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which is tasked with find the money to fund the bill. Representative Haddad, along with State Senator Mae Flexer, who could not attend this evening due weather, proposed legislation in Hartford regarding the implementation of Open Source Textbooks for all college students (Open Source Textbooks are textbooks that are made free for the utilization of students, teachers and society members).
There were also questions that were posed by students. Students asked why interest rates were generated in the first place and about the lack of provision by America of free higher education, like one student’s home country of Greece. The representatives responses were very positive and favorable, citing the bipartisan nature of this subject. The optimism regarding the initiation of a conversation on free education was stemmed from President Obama’s recent proposal of free community college. Congressman Larson pointed to past examples such as the current public nature of our K-12 education system, while Congressman Courtney pointed to the positive reaction from those who were polled about the subject.
“This meeting tonight is important,” Congressman Courtney said. “This Congress is going to be debating the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is two years overdue. Textbooks and student interest rates are right in the heart of the debate happening in my subcommittee, and we really hope that dialogue will continue.”
Congressman John Larson said, “We are here to listen and learn from them [students]. Action is not started in D.C, and cases have shown this throughout history. It’s not the ideas or point dialogue, but when the issues are talked about and someone is able to offer a better solution. If we don’t encourage students and their parents to talk, there will be a missed opportunity to continue to deal with the inequality, especially related to student loan debt”
“It is important to understand that when students get involved, it makes a big difference. State Senator Mae Flexer and I introduced our bill in Hartford to encourage the use of Open Source Textbooks. This bill, HB 6117, is special because the students of UConn asked us to look into the situation and propose a solution,” Representative Haddad said.
The legislation has just been put on the agenda for the state and will be brought up on the federal agenda some point later this year.