Bipartisanship on lowering college costs

Sen. Mark Warner
Guest Columnist

My story may be much like yours: I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I was able to pay for my degree by working part time and taking on student debt. And after finishing my education, I tried to start a business but failed — not once, but twice.

What I learned through those experiences is something that no one tells you. Getting it right the first time is the exception, not the rule. Fortunately, I was able to get back on my feet, and my third attempt ultimately became the company Nextel.  But I would not have had three chances to try — and fail — if I faced the same amount of student debt that today’s students face.

Illustration by Della Sigrest

I have been traveling to colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, and I continually hear stories about the impact of student debt. Today’s college graduates in Virginia carry nearly $30,000 in student loan debt.  That means too many young people are being forced to put off decisions about starting a family, launching a startup business, or buying a home because of the burden of student debt.

As a result of these campus conversations, I have rolled up my sleeves and worked with Republicans and Democrats on specific proposals that will go a long way toward helping young Virginians prepare for college, responsibly manage their student loan debts and find good jobs upon graduation.

These ideas include my work with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to make the costs and benefits of college much more transparent. We propose pulling together onto a single website all of the data that’s already collected about each program at every university: What’s the graduation rate? What’s the average amount of student debt? Do graduates find jobs in this field? What’s the average starting pay?  Making this information more readily available on a single website will help students and their parents make more informed decisions when picking a college.

I also am pushing for eligible students to be able to access Pell grants while they are still in high school. This could give many students a head start, dramatically lowering the cost of a degree by starting higher education at a community college.

For those facing student loan debts upon graduation, I have proposed capping the amount of loan repayments at 10 percent of your monthly income, and providing employers with the option to offer $5,000 pre-tax to help employees pay off their student debts directly.

After graduation, students should have access to world-class jobs in all parts of the Commonwealth. I am working across the aisle to reduce unnecessary regulations so startups can thrive and to embrace new methods like crowdfunding so that our entrepreneurs have easier access to capital. With the right policies in place, I believe the next Google or Facebook could start right here in the Commonwealth.

It is these types of bipartisan efforts that prove that the foundation of good policy is not based on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; it’s about whether you are solving the problems facing Virginians.

When I was governor, I worked with a Republican-led legislature to turn a $6 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus. Our bipartisan efforts resulted in record investments in K-12 and higher education, and Virginia was designated the country’s best state for educational opportunity.

We accomplished this by finding common ground and working toward common sense solutions.  Because when you start in the center and work your way out, you have a better chance of getting things done.

That is why I am committed to continuing to work with both sides of the aisle in the Senate to expand economic opportunity in Virginia, to pay down our national deficit, provide entrepreneurs with the right tools to succeed and ensure that no one goes broke going to college.

I know Washington can often seem like a dysfunctional place, but in order to give everyone a fair shot at success, that’s going to have to change. And, if you give me the honor of rehiring me, I’ll spend every day working to do just that.

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