NEXTGEN GOP, Richmond Young Professionals co-host student debt forum

VCU senior Zachary Hogarth said he estimates he’ll have around $37,000 in debt when he graduates this May.

“I’m afraid I’m going to spend my entire life working to pay off just four years of college,” Hogarth said.

Hogarth was just one of many attendees at NEXTGEN GOP and The Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals (ULGRYP) joint forum on student debt at the State Capitol who expressed concern about the post-grad realities of accumulating student debt.

The forum, hosted earlier this month, was titled “The Student Debt Crisis – The Crippling Effects on the Millennial Generation.” The discussion allowed members of the General Assembly to explain what is currently taking place to help Virginians relieve their student debt.

In 2004, the average student in Virginia graduated with around $16,000 in debt — in 2014, that number had increased to more than $26,000, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.

Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, said he not only continues to write checks every month for student debt he accrued in law school, but that he expects to still be paying off debt when his three children are fully grown.

“Referring to this as a crisis is accurate,” Sturtevant said, cautioning, “there is no silver bullet” to fix the growing problem.

Sturtevant said he attempted to help current college students by presenting a bill that would cap tuition increases at twice the rate of inflation, but the bill died on the floor.

VCU President Michael Rao, who was also at the forum, spoke at length about the rising cost of higher education and insisted efforts were underway to find ways to help students.

“Cost containment has to be on our list and it is on our list,” Rao said.

Rao said there were complications involved with a large institution’s budget, but the main focus should be to ensure the university is moving in the right direction.

“(VCU is) doing everything it can to move those dollars towards the mission and to the people who are at the center of that mission,” Rao said.

Rao also touted VCU’s “Do the math” campaign, which began three years ago and encourages students to take 15 credits each semester. The campaign’s stated goal is to graduate students in four years with the least amount of debt possible, and saving students up to $50,000.

Alexandra Johnson, Contributing Writer

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