By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Nevada’s 3rd U.S. House District Rep Susie Lee campaigned as an education advocate when winning office in 2018.
Since her election, one of her main areas of focus has been student debt and how it is holding back America’s younger generation.
“To me, this is a terrible crisis,” Lee said recently on Nevada Newsmakers.
Americans owe more than $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 45 million borrowers, according to research by savingforcollege.com. That is about $521 billion more than total U.S. credit card debt.
For the Class of 2018, data shows almost 70 percent of them have student-loan debt, with an average per-student debt at almost $29,000.
“There is some serious work that needs to be done,” she told host Sam Shad. “Right now, there are people graduating from school and we tell them, ‘You’ve got to go on and get higher ed but now they are going on to higher ed and guess what? They are coming out with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. They can’t buy houses. So we are strangling them when we should be setting them off in the right direction.”
Lee, a member of the House Education Committee, spoke about pending legislation she co-sponsored that would help protect students from predatory leading practices and many for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges account for 10 percent of all enrolled higher education students, but account for nearly half of all student loan defaults, according to a Lee news release.
She has also taken aim at Education Secretary Betsy Devos, pushing for the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval on DeVos’s rewritten borrower defense rule that Lee feels has gutted essential protections for student borrowers.
“I’ve introduced several bills to deal with student debt,” she said. “And it is not repaying everyone’s student debt. It is basically setting in the guardrails so that students defrauded by a for-profit school that closes, they have a way to get their debt repaid. It is bringing down the cost of interest rates.”
Lee said she was recently urged to continue pushing for student-loan reform.
“Just this weekend alone, I talked to three kids who have just graduated from college, and they each had between $50,000, $7,000 and $130,000 of debt,” Lee said. “And I certainly think there are steps we can take. I just introduced a bill to bring down the interest rate that we charge for student loans. Right now, it is at 5 percent, (and the bill would) bring it down to 3.7 percent.”
Lee is preparing to introduce legislation on the Pell grants, which are a higher education federal subsidy based on need. Lee wants students in two-year institutions to also be eligible for the grants.
“We are just about to introduce the Making College Affordable Act and right now if you get a Pell grant, you are only eligible if you are going toward a four-year degree,” Lee said. “What if we gave Pell grants that are stack-able, that you could use for two-year programs? I think we are taking on and understanding that a four-year university is not the only path to getting a skill that is going to turn into a great career.”
Lee was highly critical of the nearly-universal practice by colleges and universities to withhold a student’s transcripts until all the student debt to that college is paid. Students are left in a Catch-22 situation, Lee said.
“Even if the student defaults on a loan right now, the school has the ability to withhold their transcript. Think about that. We want the student to repay the debt but they need their transcript to get a job. But they can’t get their transcript. So we need to think about how we are structuring this to make sure we are setting students off on the right path.”