Members of Congress: Inspiration for Higher Education

Members of Congress represent thousands of constituents and introduce legislation to better serve them, including today’s students. Many of today’s students are parenting, working full-time or part-time, and financially independent and require updated legislation that speaks directly to their needs. This month, a few Members shared their inspiration for higher education with Insights & Outlooks, including interactions with constituents and their own college experiences.

Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, House Committee on Education and Labor

“I’ve never been shy about my roots, I grew up in one of the poorest areas of the country without electric power or running water. My path to becoming a first-generation college student and graduate was no easy feat; I took a job as a weaver at the age of 12 and worked as a janitor in high school to help my family. I am a living, breathing example of the American Dream, and that’s what this country is about. My personal experiences have shaped who I am today including my advocacy for students. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to achieve the dream of postsecondary education, it’s an issue I will never stop fighting to protect.”

Senator Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire 

“Students who are willing to work hard should be given every opportunity to succeed and to continue their education, whether they are pursuing a degree at a university or community college, or another credential.

I’ve met individuals throughout New Hampshire who are working hard to get ahead – including a woman from White Mountains Community College who told me that she joined a welding apprenticeship program because she ‘didn’t want to be poor anymore’ and saw the program as a way to build a good career and life. I also met a young man who was working at a grocery store after high school, because he did not have the resources to pursue a four year degree. He eventually enrolled in a microelectronics program that was a result of a creative partnership between Nashua Community College and BAE Systems, and now has a job with benefits, is saving for retirement, and eventually plans to get his bachelor’s degree in engineering.

I’ll continue fighting to give students the support that they need and to ensure that they are not burdened by massive amounts of student debt, regardless of the post-secondary path that they choose.”

Representative Dusty Johnson, South Dakota

“As a new member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in dozens of hearings and listen to witnesses from all walks of life. Earlier this year during a hearing on college tuition prices, I was impacted by the testimony of Ms. Parker, a single parent and college student. More than 24% of college students nationwide are parents, and an even higher percentage of those parents are single mothers. Ms. Parker is one of those mothers and she shared the difficulty of navigating college, working multiple jobs at a time, and using childcare all on her own.

Ms. Parker isn’t alone – her story is the story of so many young parents and single mothers in the United States. More than 38% of students with family, financial, or work obligations leave school in their first year. A postsecondary education or trade is more important than ever to succeed in today’s economy. And access to affordable child care can be a great enabler for parents to pursue a postsecondary education and get a higher paying job. Ms. Parker’s story is the reason I introduced the Empower Parents in College Act, which will provide flexibility for parents and universities to partner with a local child care provider to offer untraditional child care services to their student-parent population.”

Representative Lucy McBath, Georgia

“I introduced the Relief for Defrauded Students Act to increase transparency at the Department of Education, make sure schools are held to the standards they claim to represent, and provide opportunities for student debt relief if those institutions are found to have cheated our children. In my district alone, 1,500 students were defrauded by predatory institutions like Argosy University.

I heard stories from students like Jazmyn Hobdy, who moved across the country to attend school in Georgia and was left without a degree, without transferrable credits, and with few options for loan forgiveness.

It is our duty as legislators to protect the success of our students. Students should be able to trust that the schools who receive government funding are the schools that deliver on the education they promise. Too many students are now left trying to pay back loans for degrees they didn’t receive because of the misconduct of predatory institutions like Argosy.

It is so important that our children focus on getting the quality education they were promised — not worrying about being saddled with large debts from schools that could not and did not deliver on their educational promise.

We all need to work together to protect the wellbeing of our students and make sure they leave school ready for success.”

Representative Mark Pocan, Wisconsin

“I come from a family that couldn’t rely on higher education for financial security. Early on, I realized the number of opportunities that were closed off to people like me. As the first generation of my family to go to college, I saw firsthand the kinds of doors that opened up with a college degree. That’s why I have always fought to ensure that people have access to better, substantial higher education as a right for all—not a privilege for the few. With schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Beloit College, Edgewood College and Madison Area Technical College in my district, I know that just like the people in my community—higher education isn’t a monolith—and everyone should have an opportunity to choose if they want to pursue a college degree.“

Senator Marco Rubio, Florida

“As someone who could not have afforded college or law school without federal student loans and Pell Grant assistance, I know firsthand the financial challenges students face when figuring out how to afford tuition and pay off student loan debt.

For an increasing share of families, federal student loans play a necessary role in attaining a college degree. As higher education costs continue to rise, however, more and more of today’s students feel like they are simply paying more for a degree from a higher education system that increasingly encourages students to take on unjustifiable levels of student debt. As of March 2019, student loan debt totaled $1.49 trillion — American’s single largest source of non-housing debt. This isn’t simply an issue of more people attending college. The cost of obtaining a four-year degree has more than doubled between 1986 and 2016 in constant dollars, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. Many of today’s students are simply paying more for the same degree their counterparts earned in 1986.

If our nation is going to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century economy, it is imperative that we equip future generations of Americans with the tools they need to succeed and the opportunity to pursue dignified work. As a federal policymaker, I am committed to ensuring our future generations have access to a higher education system that is more affordable and within the reach of more students than ever before.”