State lawmakers take first step in solving student debt crisis

For many students today, deciding to come to this University either means you have enough money to pay for college, or it means graduating with a heavy amount of debt.

Despite a college degree becoming an increasingly common requirement for many jobs, the ability to pay for college has become more of a burden. It seems unreasonable that this generation of college students is expected to obtain a degree before moving onto their futures, but are essentially set behind once they graduate.

Last Wednesday, Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-52, held a college affordability hearing on campus and was part of a panel which included other local lawmakers such as Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, Rep. Chad Hays, R-Danville, and Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

Students who attended the hearing had a chance to speak in front of lawmakers about their experiences with student debt.

One student, Rachel Heller, junior in LAS and student senator, spoke out about some students still can’t afford to attend a university in Illinois even when working full time.

She is personally affected by the current financial aid process which offered her an estimated parental contribution, how much parents are expected to contribute financially toward their child’s college education, which her mother could not pay.

Those at the hearing also heard about community college and how it’s gaining momentum as an alternative for many prospective students, especially those who want to save money rather than spend thousands more at a university. Nearly 65 percent of Illinois students attend community colleges. Some students may want to attend community college for the convenience of being near home and some due to monetary reasons. It’s also a great way to transition into a four-year college or university.

With so many students in similar situations to Heller, it was about time Illinois lawmakers did something to address the issue. Sure, student debt is labeled as a nationwide problem, and we constantly hear from politicians about how college needs to become more affordable. However, there hasn’t been any visible change, with student debt reaching about $1 trillion.

Kudos to our local lawmakers for attempting to break this trend and show that they care about the students in the communities they are serving.

As student debt will only grow, this hearing will hopefully be the first step in pushing lawmakers to solve the debt crisis that has made college more of a privilege or financial burden than a stepping stone to the future.

It’s time to reevaluate lending policies that weigh down students after graduation and to provide more aid to students who are simply unable to afford to attend four-year state universities.