I’m a proud alumna of the University of Nevada, Reno and a first generation college graduate. My parents worked hard and sacrificed to send my sister and me to college because they understood that a college degree would give us greater career opportunities. But when we went to college, we didn’t have to worry about finding a way to pay $20,000 in tuition and fees every school year. In the late 1980s, college tuition, fees and room and board at a public 4-year college averaged $9,970, as opposed to $20,770 for students in 2018. College costs are going up, and the burdens hurt all students.
The rise in tuition and college-related expenses can be attributed to a number of factors, including inflation, the increasing demand for a college education, and in many states across the country, a divestment by state governments in funding for college campuses. To foster a competitive 21st century workforce, Congress must work to support programs that provide workers and students the skills they need to be successful and one of those pathways is through higher education. But the reality today is that one out of six Americans owes college loan debt, adding up to a total national burden of $1.5 trillion. Because of the mounting costs of tuition, food, housing, books and other necessities, students in Nevada averaged $22,000 in student loan debt in 2017. That means most students have to work part-time, take out federal or private loans or take gap years to stay afloat. Quite frankly, the astronomical price tag on higher education has shut the door on millions of high school students, low-income families and people of color who don’t have thousands of dollars tucked away in a savings account.
The current cost of higher education in America is unsustainable, and Congress must act now to provide necessary relief to students in Nevada and across the nation. As a new school year starts and students come back to hang out at The Joe and learn the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st century, I’m working every day to make sure all students in Nevada—no matter their zip code—have access to college and graduate studies without crushing levels of debt. In the Senate, I’ve cosponsored legislation that will allow students to refinance their high-interest student loans at lower rates, which in turn will allow graduates to increase their buying power and help our economy grow. I’m also committed to ensuring that students of color, many of whom are first generation or may come from backgrounds with limited financial means have additional programmatic support. I’m a strong supporter of the TRIO program and I’m fighting in Congress for legislation that supports minority-serving institutions like the Strengthening Minority-Serving Institutions Act and for important minority-serving programs in there authorization of the Higher Education Act. To address challenges facing students of color and the repayment crisis among borrowers of color, my colleagues and I sent a letter soliciting feedback from stakeholders in education policy, business, civil rights, academia and consumer protection about ways to make access to higher education more equitable.
We can’t continue to allow the costs of higher education to be an obstacle to upward mobility. It’s time for us to tackle the college affordability crisis and make sure traditional students and nontraditional students alike succeed, from the veteran who’s juggling school and a full-time job to the single mom who’s working part-time and paying for child care. Every student in America must have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and get ahead without breaking the bank.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto can be reached through her website cortezmasto.senate.gov or on Twitter @SenCortezMasto