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By Aaron Farmer
Radford University’s Student Government Association (SGA) president and vice president traveled to Washington, D.C. along with student leaders from across the Commonwealth on Jan. 27 for a discussion with senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner on higher education affordability.
“Many of us didn’t really know if this was going to be a substance of policy conversation, or if it would be more of a photo-op… but the senators came right in and we got right down to business. I was very pleased by that. We got to share some personal stories or stories of friends – and then we got right into policy,” said SGA President Colby Bender.
Student leaders attending the meeting voiced their opinions on issues like debt, rising tuition costs, and loan repayment policies, and were given the opportunity to comment on proposals introduced by the senators to help with the cost of higher education.
“Both Senator Warner and Senator Kaine are very concerned about higher education affordability in Virginia – and in the nation,” said Bender.
Hikes in tuition costs and the rising need for financial assistance is a serious issue facing current and prospective college students.
Research done by Virginia’s State Council on Higher Education shows that 52 percent of students who earned a degree in the Commonwealth in the 2011-12 school year graduated with student loan debt. The median debt was $25,000 for students who earned bachelor’s degrees and the number of indebted graduates – along with the average amount of debt – per student has steadily increased in recent years.
However, despite rising tuition costs and higher average student debt, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or more still remains higher today than before the 2008 economic recession.
“You hear a lot of politicians now say, even they have just now payed off their student debt,” said Bender.
Vice President Jacinda Jones said she enjoyed the opportunity to discuss issues like the impact of student loan debt on families, financial aid availability for graduate students, and the need for more information for high school students about how to pay for college.
Jones said she is planning for graduate school now, and the strain of paying for it has definitely crossed her mind.
“The senators had a lot of things to add about legislation they wanted to work on to help us… they wanted to hear from students who are in the situation now and how that debt is going to affect us,” said Jones.
After meeting with the senators in D.C., Bender traveled to Richmond on Jan. 1 with other students to lobby for higher education affordability.
“We were able to talk to some of our local legislators like Delegate Joseph Yost and our state Senator Ben Chafin… and even being very conservative members of the state legislature, they both agreed that they would support more higher education funding, and that’s really huge,” said Bender.
Students from Radford – including Bender and other SGA representatives – will return to Richmond this week to lobby for a variety of causes critical to students.
“We have a core group from the SGA, but we also have plenty of other students from other groups, all walks of education,” said Bender, explaining that a mixture of student representatives – ranging from science and technology majors advocating research funding to diversity and inclusion activists – will travel with them to speak with state legislators.
“Everyone has a different reason why they love Radford, and that’s why we try to make it so inclusive… we have a good, large group of students, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun,” said Bender.
For more information on how to get involved in student advocacy, contact the SGA at email@example.com or visit their office on the second floor in the Hurlburt Student Center (the Bonnie).