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Johnson Talks Affordable College at SF Roundtable

July 3, 2014, 5:04 PM by Brady Mallory

Johnson Talks Affordable College at SF Roundtable

For many students, earning a degree is the easy part compared to the challenges of paying for college.

Nationwide, student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion, surpassing credit card debt. Men and women going after an education in KELOLAND are feeling the pinch.

Two years ago, Tyler Ramsbey finished high school. After his freshman year at University of Sioux Falls, he tied the knot.

"After we were married, of course, our parents kind of stopped helping us," Ramsbey said.

Finding Southeast Tech more affordable, Ramsbey and his wife transferred. Ramsbey took a semester off to work a couple of jobs just to try to save money.

"I was looking at how much school was going to cost.  How much credit hours were. I really wrestled with the issue of, 'should I go back to school?'" Ramsbey said.

Ramsbey was just one member of a roundtable panel who voiced concerns to U.S. Senator Tim Johnson. On Thursday, Johnson met with a mix of students and education leaders to discuss student loan debt and the issue of making college more affordable. 

"College represents one of the surest paths to the middle class, but it has become increasingly difficult to afford," Johnson said. "Although South Dakota has done better than most states at keeping college costs down, 78 percent of our students must take out loans. This is higher than in any other state.  I have heard from hundreds of South Dakotans about their difficulty making ends meet, and I will push for reforms that make college more affordable, help borrowers better manage their debt, and make sure students get the best bang for their buck," Johnson said.

Last month, Johnson voted for a bill, promising to help an estimated 81,000 borrowers in South Dakota refinance their loans.

"Although filibuster blocked the bill, I will continue working to advance legislation to make college more affordable," Johnson said.

Panel members said a lack of college preparation in high school, climbing interest rates, and a complicated FAFSA are a few obstacles for students. Augustana President Rob Oliver said household incomes that are not keeping up with the cost of living is a main barrier holding students back. Citing an article in USA today, he also said student loan debt is not as out of control as many people believe.

"In fact, a great number of them are way below the sensational stories of somebody with $50,000 or $100,000 in debt," Oliver said.

For many students, a smaller debt adds up quickly.

"I've had to work a whole bunch of hours, my wife works about 20 hours a week.  Just so we can afford to go to school," Ramsbey said.

The Senate Banking Committee has jurisdiction over student loans made by private lenders. As Chairman of the Banking Committee, Senator Johnson said he will work to consider actions that can be taken to address both existing and future student loan debt. Efforts are currently underway in Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of the year. Senator Johnson will share the insight he received at today's roundtable with his Senate colleagues as they work to make post-secondary education accessible and affordable to any student who qualifies to attend.

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