Heard at the Door: The Importance of Affordable Higher Education

A few weeks ago, I started taking our campaign to the streets by going door-to-door to talk to my neighbors about the issues that matter most to them.  While each individual shared a slightly different story, many of the themes were consistent.  In fact, what I hear repeatedly at the door is that the issues that matter most to people in our district are the same ones that matter most to me and my family – ensuring our children receive a good education, including making higher education more affordable; working to increase access to high quality health care that is affordable for everyone, including long-term care and home health care for our seniors and disabled; as well as making sure that everyone has the chance to earn a good living, which starts by improving our roads and public transportation.

Some of the stories that have touched me most over the last week are about higher education. As some of you may know, I went back to law school for the first time after I was almost a decade into my professional career, and had to work full time while taking classes at night in order to make ends meet.  After I decided to back to school again for an advanced degree in global health law from Georgetown, I still have about 22 years left in scheduled payments on my original law school loans from Catholic.  In fact, my mortgage will be paid off 8 years before my student loans if I continue to make the minimum payments on both.

The skyrocketing cost of higher education is a serious problem, and families who do all the “right things” are still getting priced out of the schools of their choice, or seeing additional higher education and/or professional degrees beyond their reach.  The exponential increase in the cost of college and graduate education appears to be a common concern from almost all of our neighbors.

Last week, one resident in the Wyngate subdivision of Bethesda shared with me that his entire college education cost less than $2,000, adding that he has no idea how recent college graduates who are crippled with astronomical student loans are able to make ends meet.  One of his neighbors added, imagine how strong our economy would be if those monthly student loan payments were going back into our economy to pay for something/anything else.

Another supporter recently shared her story with me, how she and her husband have saved for almost two decades in order to help their two daughters pay for college.  Unfortunately, after their oldest daughter was accepted into the college of her dreams, mom had to let her know that they just couldn’t afford to send her there.  That even though they did everything right, increasing their savings every year to help cover the rising tuition costs, it just wasn’t going to be enough to send their daughter to the college of her choice.

The out of control costs associated with securing a college or graduate education are having real impacts on people right here in our district.  When parents are facing the choice of: putting off retirement for a number of years, adding more debt onto their home mortgages or saddling their children with exorbitant student loans, something is broken in our educational system.  It’s time we address the costs, and ensure that families don’t get priced out of higher education.

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