During a Senate Budget Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine highlighted the harmful impact of high college costs and student loan debt on borrowers and the entire U.S. economy.
Kaine, co-founder of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus and a longtime supporter of expanding CTE programs, discussed the importance of presenting the option of earning licenses and certificates in high-demand career fields to students as an alternative to more expensive four-year college degrees. He also called for better information-sharing about 2+2 programs, dual enrollment, and other strategies to reduce the costs of higher education.
“I think we have probably done a disservice by not laying out in a more clear fashion, as a public policy matter, lower cost ways to get the kinds of skills or degree that you need to succeed. So, for example, one kind of skill you could get is not a college degree but a license or a professional degree,” said Kaine. “A lot of students now are going to J. Sargeant Reynolds for two years and then to VCU. And when they do that their total costs shrinks… I do think that there are already a number of pathways to get college degrees or credentials and certificates that enable them to work. But we have an obligation to provide better information.”
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) alumna, former Student Virginia Education Association President and aspiring educator Brittany Jones testified at the hearing about the challenges she faced while repaying her student loans after graduating. Following the hearing, Kaine met with Jones to discuss how best to educate students and their families about postsecondary education options and how to pay for them. In Virginia, 57% of graduates with bachelor degrees have student debt.
“Student loan debt has been the driving force of my decisions for the last eight years of my life,” said Jones, who is studying to be a teacher. “And according to my current repayment plan, it is projected to be for the next 25 years of my life, well into the years in which I should be planning for retirement.”
“That’s a powerful statement,” Kaine said in response to her testimony. “I’d like to be a student in your class. Because somebody who wants to be a teacher as much as you, somebody who’s willing to take on your shoulders that much and still fight to achieve your dream … is going to be one fantastic teacher.”
On Monday, Kaine hosted a roundtable discussion with students and educators at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg about strategies to help students afford post-secondary degrees. Kaine, who benefitted from dual enrollment as a student, recently co-sponsored theSupporting College Access and Success Through Dual Enrollment Act to provide states with grants to expand programs that allow high school students to take college-level classes and earn credit that counts toward both high school and college graduation.