Holding roundtables across our state is one of the most important things I do in the Senate – it gives me a chance meet with and hear the stories of Ohioans of all backgrounds, and to gather new ideas. One of the early ideas that came out of these roundtables was the Ohio College Presidents Conference – an annual summit to bring together the leaders of Ohio’s great institutions of higher learning.
We have such diversity in higher education in Ohio – we have public and private schools, colleges with a few hundred students and universities with tens of thousands, four-year institutions and community colleges. And at the end of April, leaders from these schools came together at my office in the Senate to discuss the future of higher education in Ohio.
We heard from experts from think tanks and government agencies, journalists, professors, and other senators. But the purpose of the conference isn’t only for the presidents to hear from experts—it’s for the experts, and for me and my staff, to hear from our Ohio leaders in higher education.
They’re the ones creating opportunity for students to be the first in their family to go to college. They’re the ones preparing those students for the jobs of tomorrow. And they are the ones doing the research and partnering with the private sector to create those jobs.
One of the biggest challenges we face in higher education today is ensuring that all Ohioans – no matter what their background is – can afford to take advantage of the great higher-ed options we have in our state.
More than two-thirds of 2014 graduates in Ohio left school with student loan debt, which averaged more than $29,000 for every student.
The total amount of student debt in the United States has more than tripled in the past 10 years, from $363 billion in 2005 to more than $1.32 trillion today– a number that exceeds both credit card and auto loan debt. Across the country, young workers have been forced to postpone important life decisions like getting married, buying a home, or starting a family. Graduates today have less disposable income, lower credit scores, and can struggle to become financially secure adults.
We have to do better.
That’s why this year I joined my colleague Senator Tammy Baldwin to introduce the In the Red Act of 2016, to provide relief for students struggling under mountains of debt, and to make new investments in college affordability.
It would allow students to refinance their outstanding debt at lower rates, increase Pell Grants to keep pace with rising costs, and make new investments in community colleges.
This is just one step we can and should take to create more opportunity for all Ohioans to get a first-class education. It’s also just one of many issues we addressed at the conference – we discussed accreditation, student activism, increasing access to STEM fields, and so much more.
The future of higher education in Ohio is bright – and will be all the brighter when we expand opportunities for all students to graduate without crippling debt and pursue their dreams.
Sherrod Brown (D_OH) represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate.