News Column

Braley joins UNI for first day of class to talk college affordability

August 26, 2014

By Christinia Crippes, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Aug. 26--CEDAR FALLS -- The horror stories coming out of the University of Northern Iowa campus Monday morning had nothing to do with first-day blues, but rather students' real fear of affording college and the loans that often come with it.

One senior shared a story of living out of his car this past summer to be able to afford college courses, even with federal student loans, and a mother of two high-schoolers said she and her husband would be lucky to pay off their own student loans before their kids enter their college careers.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley held a meeting on the UNI campus Monday afternoon with more than a dozen students and parents who shared their unique concerns but ultimately had the same message.

"It seems like their (students) lives are put on hold. They want to be responsible. They want to pay for their own bills. They want to be out there working and starting a family, but it's the student-loan debt that really holds them back," said Waterloo's Sara McIntee, whose eldest child has graduated college but she has one child at UNI and two in high school who are considering their post-secondary degree options.

Braley used the stories shared to paint a picture of the alternative option if he loses the Senate race to Republican candidate Joni Ernst, a state senator from Red Oak.

"I have a proven record of working across the aisle to move these (college affordability) issues forward for Iowa students, and my opponent supports these same tea party ideas, like eliminating the Department of Education," Braley said after the meeting.

He pointed to his own votes to expand the federal Pell grants, keep a lower interest rate on student loans and preserve college tax credits as among the ways he has helped address the issue.

Ernst's campaign spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said Ernst supports federal student loans and "certain necessary responsibilities" could be administered by other parts of the administration or our states.

"Joni believes that to preserve access to higher education we need to focus on attacking the reason it is becoming unaffordable: exploding tuition costs. Pell grants and federal student loans are a necessary part of the puzzle to make college possible for many Iowans, but do not solve the root cause of the problem," Hamel said in a statement.

Hamel continued, "As her own daughter begins to think about college, Joni will work in the (U.S.) Senate to address rising tuition costs because they lead to higher debt, and less opportunity for future generations of young Americans."

Braley, likewise, said more could be done to address the issue as a member of the U.S. Senate. He said he's already introduced legislation to preserve for the long-term some of the votes he has already taken to keep interest rates low and continue the tax deductions.

Braley said the nearly hour-long event at UNI was insightful, and he was surprised to see how many college students had a plan for their college careers.

"It was clear that these (federal) programs had a profound impact on their business plan and college education, and without these programs, many of these students would be without an opportunity to continue their education. They would be in the workforce, struggling to find a good-paying job," Braley said.

Braley will continue a college affordability tour Tuesday at Drake and Iowa State universities. His tour comes at the same time that the Iowa Democratic Party is highlighting statements Ernst made during the primary season that included a call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and get government out of the student-loan business.

In response to those critiques, Students for Joni Chairwoman Stephanie Turner, a senior at Simpson College in Indianola, released a statement in support of Ernst's defense of education.

"Joni Ernst is a mother who cares deeply about education and went to college partially on government aid herself. Today's attacks are just another case of Bruce Braley resorting to desperate tactics, but we're smarter than he gives us credit for," Turner said. "Students across Iowa deserve better than Braley's misleading attacks."


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Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA)

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