The numbers rolled off U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s tongue with ease: About 44 million Americans owe $1.4 trillion for student loans.
Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, cited those statistics at a town hall meeting Wednesday at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley to discuss the rising cost of college and its related debt for student loan borrowers.
Cleaver heard from concerned students, recent graduates and others affected by student loan debt.
One of those people was Marissa Baum, a graphic designer from Kansas City who said said student loans were a necessary evil for her to pursue higher education.
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Baum expressed frustration with the high interest rate on her loan and how it has affected her livelihood.
“What I didn’t expect was to live the rest of my life in crippling debt,” Baum said. “By the time I finish repaying my student loans, I would have paid back 435 percent of the original loan amount, which equates to a half-million dollars.”
Cleaver was almost speechless.
“Thank you for sharing,” the congressman said as people in attendance applauded Baum’s testimonial.
Stories on the struggle to repay student loans varied at the town hall. One woman told Clever that loan forgiveness programs and consolidation did little to help her manage a six-figure student loan debt.
Another person spoke on the for-profit college model, saying those schools are nothing more than “ripoffs.”
Cleaver said we, as a nation, must ensure that young people and students across America are able to stay in the classroom and out of debt.
Students, he said, should not be burdened with how they are going to survive after graduating because of overwhelming student loans.
“It’s a problem that we can’t afford to ignore any further,” Cleaver said. “How can we become a great nation if we start our young people off hurting from debt?”
Cleaver added that he and colleagues in Washington need a solution to solve the crisis, such as putting a cap on student loan interest rates.
Most student loan providers are backed by the federal government. The collection agencies that come after those in debt are government-owned, Cleaver said.
“Congress can fix this,” he said. “It’s our job, and right now, we are not doing our job.”