“In the Red Act” proposes path to debt-free college

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Megan Snyder, News Editor

According to Senator Elizabeth Warren, there are currently $1.3 billion dollars in student debt, and 70% of graduating seniors in 2014 had to take on debt in order to go to school. Legislation titled ‘In the Red Act’ proposed several solutions to combat student debt and outline a path to provide up to two years of free community college for students.

On September 14th, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, and Brian Schatz held a conference call with college students in Wisconsin and surrounding states regarding current student debt in the United States.

The In the Red Act has three main parts; allowing students to refinance student loans, ensuring that Pell Grants are increased or decreased according to inflation, and providing up to two years of free community college.

Warren stated that there are currently 42 million Americans with student debt, and enabling students to refinance their loans would be a major part in the plan to erase that debt. The “In the Red Act” also provides a path to free community college which Senator Baldwin stated would be funded by increasing taxes on “those at the top” and through closing special interest tax loopholes.

Baldwin emphasized the need for reform, stating “higher education should be a path to prosperity, not a path into suffocating debt.”

Mike Frantz, Vice President of Enrollment at Buena Vista University (BVU), discussed the effects the In the Red Act would have on a university like BVU if it were passed.

Aspects of it such as loan refinancing and tying Pell Grants to inflation, Frantz described as positive and helpful in reducing student debt. As for free community college, Frantz discussed the potential for Pell Grant funding to decrease or completely go away in order to fund the free community college program.

“If the Pell Grant goes away to fund this, now what’s happening to those going to the four-year universities who don’t have Pell Grant eligibility?” he said.

Frantz also stated that free community college could affect first and second year enrollment numbers at some colleges.

“It may relegate four year colleges, in some cases, to being what is commonly called ‘finishing schools’ which is not terrible. It’s what we do at our 16 sites and online. You have an AA degree, and we’re there to help you get across the finish line,” Frantz said. “Worst-case scenario that’s what happens and it makes BV something very different than what it is today.”

“We have a lot of people going to four-year institutions first right now even though that community college is markedly cheaper,” Frantz stated. “Would making it that much cheaper get everybody? A huge percentage, a small percentage? I think the American public has to vote with their pocket books at that point.”

Frantz discussed that it was important students pay attention to proposals such as the In the Red Act, especially since it is an election year and issues like free community college have the potential to become a top three initiative for the presidential candidates.

Regardless of whether or not legislation like the In the Red Act is announced, Frantz stated that BVU administration works to ensure financial aid is available for students.

“President Moore is very, very active at the state and federal levels advocating for student financial aid,” Frantz said. “He at least annually, along with other Iowa college presidents, goes to Washington D.C. to meet with our congressmen and women to make sure they understand how important things like the Pell Grant are to our students.”