As college student loan debt continues to climb nationally, lawmakers in Massachusetts are proposing some ways to help.
A subcommittee of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education approved a report this week that contains nine recommendations including trying to decrease the time it takes to earn a college degree, increase state aid, and require all Massachusetts high school students to take a financial literacy course.
The recommendations were developed after the subcommittee held a series of hearings around the state. During one of the hearings last September at Holyoke Community College, Trevor Eliason, a student trustee at Springfield Technical Community College, said he knows hundreds of students struggling with debt.
" I know students who have had to withdraw completely because the financial burden of school coupled with the financial burden of life is just too much."
Sixty-five percent of Massachusetts students take out loans to pay for college. The state ranks 12th in the country in the number of students carrying debt. The average student debt in Massachusetts is $27,200.
State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke said he and other members of the subcommittee were surprised to learn that many students lack a basic understanding of how the college financing system works.
"One of the big recommendations is financial literacy classes. We have 18 year-olds who are not old enough to drink, but are signing their names to thousands of dollars of debt."
To reduce the time it takes to earn a degree, and thus lower the cost, the subcommittee recommends persuading colleges to give credit for all advanced placement courses offered at high schools and promote dual enrollment programs.
Other recommendations include increasing and reforming state- funded scholarship and college savings programs, authorizing loan forgiveness in certain fields of study, and developing public-private partnerships to advance employment opportunities.
The report will be given to the full committee on higher education, which will decide if any legislation should be written.
"This puts us in the forefront of the conversation that is happening nationally. Hopefully this report will spur some legislation in the next session."
The next state budget proposed by the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee would increase funding to the state’s university system so that half the higher education budget is funded by the taxpayers, according to committee vice chair State Rep. Stephen Kulik.
"By doing so we are able to put off any increase in tuition or fees for this year. I think that is very significant."
The subcommittee’s report on making higher education more affordable said the amount of student loan debt at the state’s public colleges and universities has risen 27 percent in the past three years.