By Annie Wood
March 17, 2015
Caption : Connecticut could become a major leader in state-level policy to address the student debt crisis.     

Last week in Atlanta, GA, President Obama announced his plan to help protect student borrowers with his Student Aid Bill of Rights. Just days before, legislators in Hartford, CT quietly started to make big moves at the state level that could help those with student loan debt in a few big ways.

Several Connecticut state senators have announced their support of a few bills addressing the skyrocketing costs involved with attending college. Senator Gayle Slossberg voiced her support for students, noting that student debt is delaying other aspects of adult life: “We’ve reached a point where people are putting their lives on hold because of student debt.”

In Connecticut, the average amount of student loan debt for the graduating class of 2013 was $30,191, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, and an estimated 64 percent of Connecticut grads have student loan debt. There is, in fact, a rising body of evidence that suggests that Millennials with student debt are landing back at home with their parents, or simply putting off buying a home or car, starting a business, or starting a family.

“If current trends continue, we’re looking at a future where a college education is out of reach for many people. We can’t let that happen,” Senator Slossberg said. The proposed pieces of legislation aim to target the rising price tag of a college degree, which many, including President Obama, would argue remains the ticket to the middle class.

Connecticut’s legislature is tackling many origins of the high costs of college, including administrative bloat. Senator Slossberg and about a dozen of her Senate colleagues introduced Senate Bill 393, An Act Concerning A Cap on the Administrative Expenses on the Board of Regents for Higher Education at the University of Connecticut. Tuition at four-year institutions has increased by about 17 percent in the past five years, according to College Board, and has increased about 24.7 percent at the Connecticut State University system. Tuition has also increased by nearly 30 percent at both community colleges and UConn. The bill would cap how much the regents are allowed to make at a time when students are taking on more and more debt with rising tuition.

With regard to student aid, Senate Bill 399 calls for increased transparency in reporting requirements of UConn. The bill would require the university to provide information to the Office of Higher Education explaining how its financial aid is divvied up annually to in-state and out-of-state students.

Finally, perhaps one of the most exciting pieces of higher education legislation being brought to Connecticut lawmakers is Senate Bill 950 (House Bill 1695), An Act Enabling the Refinancing of Student Loans. This bill would make student loan refinancing available to Connecticut students and parents through the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority (CHELSA), whether or not the loan was made by CHELSA. For Connecticut students, this could be significant.

Members of Connecticut’s legislature are very much aware of the weight of student loan debt on the state. Senate President Martin Looney noted that six years ago, student loan debt accounted for the smallest portion of household debt. Today, it represents the largest portion, second only to mortgages and exceeding credit card debt.

“The impact is far-reaching, from closing doors of opportunity to influencing majors and career choices, delaying major life events and saddling students with debt” said Looney.

Connecticut lawmakers could make the state a leader in addressing multiple facets of the current student debt crisis. With a collective national student debt of $1.3 trillion, this state’s legislature is taking significant strides in creating policy to keep students from suffering because of their investment in their education.

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