Debbie Dingell participates in student debt forum

Debbie Dingell, democrat congressional candidate for Michigan’s 12th district, came to Eastern Michigan University Wednesday to participate in a forum with students and administration on rising higher educational costs.

Dingell is running for the congressional seat vacated by her retiring husband, U.S. Representative John Dingell, in Michigan’s 12 District. John Dingell is the longest serving congressman in the U.S. House of Representative history, serving for over 58 years. Debbie Dingell is running against Republican challenger Terry Bowman.

“It’s terrifying, the amount of student debt kids are graduating with,” Debbie Dingell said. “I have been having a lot of small dialogues like this to learn [what students are facing today].”

6.7 million student loan borrowers are currently delinquent, and that debt cannot be discharged through federal bankruptcy. In addition, creditors can garnish earning and Social Security to recoup the debt.

“I’m not here to point a finger at anybody or say vote this way or that,” Dingell said. “There are certain things that are critical for the success of a community: education and public safety…we’ve got to go and get this fixed.”

From 2007 through 2012, the U.S. government made $66 billion in profit from student loans, USA Today recently reported. In spite of this, bills calling for student loan reform are stalled in Congress.

“The Elizabeth Warren Bill that would at least put a cap and lower the interest rate that people are paying on tuition has to become law,” Dingell said. “We just have to go out and build the will across the country and get young people to build a coalition to have their voices heard.”

Warren’s Bill would make it easier for student loan borrowers to refinance their current debt and freeze interest rates on their current loans. Opponents of the Bill say borrowers can already refinance student loan debt and that the Bill does nothing for current college students or address the real issue in higher education – the continued rising cost of a college education.

Kenneth Dobson, EMU’s Executive Director of Government and Community Relations, attended the forum and said it was a great starting point for discussing how to make education more affordable at Eastern.

“I think that every year it is becoming more difficult for working class families to provide an affordable education for their kids,” Dobson said. “Due to funding constraints the pressure to finance higher education has been placed on parents, students, and universities such as Eastern Michigan University to find unique ways to continue to provide a great education at an affordable price.”

Students participating in the forum said they wished they had been given more education on student loans in high school. Some even said middle school students needed to be taught the dangers of borrowing money on credit and the effects student loan debt can have on their credit scores and economic future.

Some students said the cost of college and how it they could pay for heavily influenced their decisions to attend EMU and even what career path they were pursuing.

EMU Student Government vice president Steven Cole said that financial literacy was one of the key points he took away from the forum.

He said Dingell’s visit to EMU would aid her in congress if she is elected.

“I think the ability for an individual who may soon be a member of the United States Congress to hear what real college students are facing and thinking about cost of attendance, interest rates on loans, etc. is crucially important,” Cole said. “In most instances, the public officials that have enough power to actually effect any sort of legitimate change are so removed from everyday life that they may miss the true nature of the problem.”

Dingell said she was studying education models in Europe to see if it could be introduced in the United States. According to Dingell, college education is free for German citizens and she questioned if it could be done here.

Dingell also said states like Tennessee have looked at instituting free junior college education to all in-state residents. She said solutions to the higher education crisis had to come from both state and federal levels.

“Young people make up 25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future.” Dingell said.

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