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Proposed Cory Gardner bill addresses student debt

Gardner hopes to provide more opportunities for students’ aid on student loans.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Common

More politicians likely to address issue to appeal to young voters

Colorado Republican Sen.Cory Gardner introduced the Student Loan Repayment Acceleration Act in October 2018, which would allow employers to make tax-free contributions of up to $10,000 each year toward their employees’ student loans.

The issue of student debt has been an increasing concern for Americans in recent years. According to Forbes, student debt has reached $1.5 trillion in the United States alone with over 44 million borrowers. The largest group of borrowers are those under 30, totaling 16.8 million young Americans. According to a 2014 report from Fox31 Denver, nearly half of college students indicated that they had considered dropping out due to concerns about debt.

Kaitlyn Vitez, the Higher Education Campaign Director with US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), said of Gardner’s bill, “It’s an interesting proposal. It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere unfortunately,” as “typically a bill that is going to become a law is introduced at the same time in the House and Senate.”

Vitez added, “A lot of employers offer some sort of student loan assistance,” as part of employees’ benefits packages and the passage of a bill such as Gardner’s would encourage “other companies and employers to start these programs as well.” 

However, Vitez believes “we need to go above and beyond this,” as Gardner’s bill “is just an acknowledgement of programs that already exist.”

Cody Hounanian, the Program Director for Student Debt Crisis, agreed, adding, “It’s really important to understand small solutions don’t solve this crisis… We encourage legislators to think bigger.”

While Gardner might have a strategic interest in tackling the issue of student debt, according to the Denver Business Journal, the city ranked 12th in the nation of cities with the most student debt. 

On the CU Denver campus, the website College Factual claims that 40 percent of incoming students take out loans averaging $5,506 per student. Gardner, who is up for reelection in 2020, is likely aware that this issue in on the minds on many of his constituents.

The Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), which has had an Auraria campus branch since 2015, is a student movement that addresses economic justice with student debt being one of their main issues. 

Vinnie Cervantes is a CU Denver master’s student studying political science who first joined Denver SLAP while he was a Metro State student in 2015. “I joined Denver SLAP because I was excited about the opportunity to build student coalitions and to fight for better overall conditions for students on a campus where we should have more agency and voice than we actually do,” he said.

When he was a Metro student, Cervantes was unhappy with the way the administration addressed student debt. “I think that MSU Denver did a major disservice to its students by bringing Wells Fargo on to the campus in their Student Success Building when that bank has a history of predatory student lending practices,” he said.

When asked his opinion about Gardner’s bill, Cervantes said, “The fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle are focusing on this issue is hopeful. I don’t believe this bill, however, will do much more than create a tiny Band-Aid to a much larger problem.” 

Hounanian is optimistic about legislation addressing student debt in the future, as “There are a lot of candidates running who have an interest in student loan programs,” though “they’re maybe not getting the most coverage.”

Hounanian added that student debt will likely become an increasingly prominent political issue, because within the US electorate, there is a “growing millennial vote” and “we are voting on issues people haven’t voted on in the past.”

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