Following Tour of her State, McCaskill to ‘drill down’ into Missourians’ Feedback on College Affordability & Accessibility
College Affordability Tour collected input from students, families, educators, and experts across Missouri—McCaskill heard directly about Pell Grants, dual-enrollment, financial counseling, transparency of pricing, refinancing
ST. LOUIS – Pledging to use the coming weeks to “drill down” into the feedback she received, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill wrapped her College Affordability Tour across Missouri armed with input from students, educators, families, and experts after a series of robust discussions about the need for a more affordable, accessible college education. In discussions with students, recent graduates, families, educators, and experts this week, McCaskill outlined broad goals for addressing rising college costs and ballooning student loan debt.
“There’s no better way for me to tackle the issues facing Missouri families than by hearing from them directly,” said McCaskill, who worked as a waitress and took out student loans to help pay her way through college and law school at the University of Missouri. “And what I heard loud and clear was that there are so many students doing everything right—but who are going to be saddled with a crushing debt as soon as they graduate, and for years after. There’s more we can do to help these students and their families, and I had the opportunity to talk through some creative ideas with folks across the state to figure out how we can make college more affordable and accessible. I’m ready to drill down into those ideas and get to work here in the Senate to help Missouri students, families, and educators succeed.”
McCaskill’s discussions—including stops in St. Louis, Belton, Kansas City, St. Joseph, Cottleville, Nixa, Ashland, Cape Girardeau, and Washington, Mo.—centered on innovative, effective ways to make college more affordable and decrease the enormous amounts of loan debt that students are facing. Those goals included a boost to Pell Grants to make them available more than twice yearly, encouraging higher and faster graduation rates, and more resources for students who choose to dual-enroll to get ahead, enabling them to graduate sooner and choose a profession while cutting down on the amount of loans they may need.
Some of McCaskill’s policy goals include:
- Refinancing options for graduates with student loan debt—allowing students to refinance their loans at a lower rate, the same way it can be done with a home mortgage.
- Improved graduation rates—currently, a significant portion of debt comes from students who drop out or take more than five years to graduate.
- A boost to Pell Grants by indexing them to inflation to ensure that they increase as the cost of tuition rises; make them available for more of the year—including summer semesters—rather than in only two academic semesters.
- Stronger accountability and transparency for institutions, so families and students know exactly what they will need to pay at each institution, as well as key information about the education provided at the schools, so students and parents can comparison shop.
- Resources to continue federal funding for critical job training programs—which are slated to run out soon. Missouri has benefited from more than $50 million in these funds, which are directed to community colleges to design education and training programs. The programs work closely with employers and industry that prepare workers for jobs in-demand in their regional economies, such as health care, information technology and manufacturing.
Missourians that McCaskill heard from stressed the importance of financial literacy to ensure students and parents are getting good advice and information, as well as the importance of transparency and accountability for institutions, so students can make informed comparisons. Many stressed the need for more affordable housing options for students—fearing that is often overlooked in the campus race to the top to prove state-of-the-art new living arrangements—as well as the high cost of textbooks, and innovative solutions to tackle that problem.
And the events included discussion of Missouri’s A+ Program, which McCaskill said could serve as a national model. McCaskill called into question elected officials in Jefferson City for threatening cuts to higher education when they should be finding ways to increase college accessibility and affordability – a fiscally responsible policy for Missouri in the short and long term.
According to the Institute for College Access & Success, the average debt for a Missouri graduate of a public 4-year institution or private non-profit 4-year institution is $25,844, the proportion of Missouri graduates from those institutions with debt is 59 percent. Missouri ranks 33rd in the nation in terms of how much debt students graduate with and 31st in the nation in terms of how many students graduate with debt. McCaskill, along with several of her Senate colleagues, wrote a joint letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year highlighting the issue of college affordability.
Visit mccaskill.senate.gov/education to read highlights of McCaskill’s work to improve education.