From D.C. to Durham

Senator Jeanne Shaheen spoke to students about college affordability, student loans

By Susan Doucet
On February 25, 2014

Senator Jeanne Shaheen stood in front of an American Government class in Horton Hall Monday morning, engaging the small group of students in the political science course on the issues of college affordability and student loan proposals.

"How many of you have student loans?" Shaheen asked. "How many of you are worried about how you're gonna pay those off when you graduate?"

Each question was met by a majority of the POLT 402 students - freshmen through seniors, New Hampshire residents and out-of-state students - raising their hands in agreement, as Shaheen launched into a discussion on an issue that is relevant for most students at the University of New Hampshire.

"As I'm sure all of you know, student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt in this country," Shaheen said. "And in New Hampshire we have a particular challenge because we have the second-highest average student loan debt in the country, about $33,000 per student graduating."

Mica Stark, Special Assistant to the President Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives, introduced Shaheen (D-NH) Monday morning, highlighting that Shaheen is the only woman in U.S. history to have been elected both governor and U.S. senator. She began her current term as U.S. senator in 2009 and is up for re-election this fall.

Before serving as governor and senator, Shaheen previously worked at UNH and said that her office was in Horton Hall. "It felt very similar to come back into Horton and get into the elevator and do what I used to do when I was working here," she said.

A press release from the Office of Senator Jeanne Shaheen stated that 74 percent of New Hampshire students leave school with debt. Shaheen spent the morning discussing initiatives that she has worked on to combat student debt before allowing comments and questions from the students in professor John Kayser's class. Among her recent college affordability initiatives are keeping Stafford loan interest rates from doubling, expanding the online portal where students can access their loans and establishing a cap on student loan repayment debt at 10 percent.

"This is a big issue for us as we think about what we need to do to make sure that you all can get the education that you need, which is important not just for your futures because most of you are gonna do better because you have a college education, you're gonna make more money, you're gonna get better jobs, you're gonna have more job security," she said about student debt. "And if you're spending the rest of your life paying off those student debts, it's gonna impact all of those things.

"From a macro perspective, it's also a big issue, because we want you to be able to start your lives, marry if you want to, have children if you want to, buy a home if you want to, because that's gonna be good for you, but it's also gonna be good for the country and good for New Hampshire."

Following her speech, Shaheen spoke about the importance of engaging young voters with a group of reporters.

"I think young people are very important ... as we saw, they played a huge role in 2012, and in 2008 when I got elected," Shaheen said in response to a question about the importance of voters in the 18 to 25 age range. "And so we want to make sure that they understand that this is an important election, and even though we're not electing a president, we have a lot at stake."

In a separate interview, Shaheen elaborated on the importance of voting and the influence of young voters.

"I think the bottom line is that elections have consequences. And young voters, as we saw in 2008 and in 2012, helped to make a difference in the outcome of those elections. In 2010, a lot of young voters stayed home, and it made a difference in those elections too," she said. "And as you think about what happened here in New Hampshire, the legislature that got elected in 2010 is the legislature that made the biggest cut to the university system, not only in New Hampshire's history, but as I said, in the country. And so I think, hopefully, students will look at that and recognize the importance of their getting involved and voting."

"That cut to the university system in New Hampshire was not just the biggest percentage cut to the university system in the history of the state of New Hampshire but was the biggest percentage cut anywhere in the country to a university system," Shaheen said during the classroom talk.

Before the end of the talk, Shaheen urged students to share their opinions on the legislation that will be introduced either this week or next week.

"We're still getting input from folks at the college level about any concerns they have as we get the legislative language drafted so we can get feedback from folks," Shaheen said. "So if you have thoughts about that this morning I would encourage you to share those with me because we can still incorporate your thoughts into the legislation."

After her classroom talk, Shaheen answered questions not only on the topics discussed by the senator, but also about her stance on the death penalty, the Affordable Care Act, partisanship in Washington, D.C., equal pay for equal work for women, and the media's influence in D.C., among other topics. Shaheen answered as many questions as time allowed, spending about 30 minutes total with the class.

"I have long ties to the university and appreciate how important it is for New Hampshire to have this kind of world university that doesn't just provide great education for all of you but is a research university and so is very innovative in terms of the areas of research," Shaheen said earlier in her talk. "So, you are very lucky to be going to the University of New Hampshire."

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