NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On March 30, Congressman Frank Pallone visited the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University to engage in an open discussion with students on the current state of higher education.
Whereas most guest speakers usually stand on stage or behind a podium with a microphone in hand, Pallone opted for a more casual approach, and sat in a circle with the eighteen students and his two staffers.
“The reason I came is because… there is concern in congress over the rising costs of tuition,” said Pallone.
He recalled his experience as an undergraduate student at Middlebury College in Vermont.
“It was very different then… tuition cost about $3,000,” said Pallone.
The cost of tuition and fees for Middlebury College this academic year are now $46,044. Even taking inflation into consideration, $3,000 was not that much back then, said Pallone.
He added that it was fairly easy to pay for his attendance.
According to the US Department of Labor, the cost of tuition in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 1120% since 1978.
To combat the rising costs of higher education, Pallone expressed his support for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s student loan bill. Pallone has co-sponsored his own version of the bill in the House of Representatives.
“This bill would allow students to refinance their student loans at rates prior to 2013, so about 3.8%,” said Pallone.
“Right now, some loans are above 7%.”
Pallone went on to explain some of the upcoming proposals in the newly-introduced Republican budget. The budget would “freeze Pell Grants for the next ten years,” Pallone said.
"They will not adjust for inflation now."
Pell grants are provided to students from a low-income backgrounds, and are already capped at a maximum amount of $5,000.
“The new budget also eliminates the in-school interest subsidy on loans,” said Pallone.
Loans such as the Stafford loan were initially subsidized by the government so that students would not incur interest until after the student graduates. But according to Pallone, that will now be changed.
“In the State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned making community colleges free,” said Pallone, and he put his support behind it.
Pallone also mentioned that it may be good to abolish interest rates on student loans as well. Regarding the recent federal budget proposal, a student asked him about the full impact it would have on student aide.
“According to the United States Student Association, the cuts to Pell grants, Stafford loans, and other payment programs would exceed $150 billion. Are these numbers accurate?” asked the author of this article.
“Yes, those numbers are fairly accurate,” Pallone confirmed with one of his staffers.
“But the federal budget is very different from a city budget, or a state budget. Those are more like the actual spending bill. The Federal budget however is more of a guideline, a plan.”
Pallone likened the federal budget to that of a family, reassuring students some of these cuts may not come to fruition.
He continued to say that students should remain active and continue to advocate for better learning conditions, even in the face of the significant cuts proposed.
“We don’t really need these cuts. I would argue if you want to benefit the economy… increase spending to higher education,” said Pallone.
He added that compared to the last several years, the economy is doing well enough to support it.
After his major talking points, the event organically turned into an open discussion where students had the opportunity to express their ideas to Pallone on what would make for a better higher education environment.
Pallone enthusiastically took student’s feedback and suggestions for different bills to introduce or sponsor.
After taking a picture with all of the attendees, he told various organization representatives that he would return, and expressed his support for all of the activist work the attending students do.