DURHAM — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., visited a political science classroom at the University of New Hampshire on Monday to discuss the issue of student loan debt.
Nearly every student in the introduction to American government class indicated they had student loan debt, most of it from federal loans, and most expressed worry about how they will pay off those debts when they graduate.
Shaheen said student loan debt is higher than credit card debt in the nation, and New Hampshire ranks second in the nation in the amount of student loan debt individuals carry — on average $33,000.
She said addressing the student loan debt issue will benefit not only students, but the local and national economies.
Shaheen said she has been trying to address the issue of student loan debt since she arrived in Washington in 2009, and there have been some successes.
The size of Pell grants was increased, a proposal to increase the interest rate on federal Stafford loans failed to pass,and a change was made to the federal loan program to get rid of “middlemen,” which has saved about $68 million, some of which has gone back into scholarships and financial aid for students, Shaheen said.
She also plans to introduce legislation to expand the portal through which students can check on their student loan debt in one place, instead of through multiple sites.
She said a cap was also passed on repayment of loans to 10 percent of what an individual is making.
Shaheen also took questions from the students, few of which related to the issue of student loan debt. One student questioned why members of Congress were excluding themselves from the Affordable Care Act, something Shaheen said is simply false information. Shaheen said she is on Medicare, as are many other legislators, but others have signed up for the ACA, primarily through the D.C. exchange.
Another student asked about partisanship in Washington, which Shaheen said is one of the things she has found frustrating since she got to Washington.
She provided examples of ways she has reached across the aisle to work with senators from around the country on a variety of issues, including energy and a proposal for a biennial instead of annual budget process. She’s also worked with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., on issues related to the military and veterans.
She also addressed gridlock in Washington, citing primaries, the extent to which congressmen and women travel home from Washington instead of moving their families there and getting to know other legislators, and how 24/7 press coverage and pundits influence the gridlock by providing antagonistic rhetoric about various issues.
She said the money in politics has been an issue.
Only a few students indicated they planned to stay in New Hampshire after graduation. Shaheen said she hopes more students consider staying, and also spoke briefly about the need for graduates in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. In 2018, New Hampshire is going to need about 4,800 STEM graduates, she said.
After the event, when asked about the importance of the 18- to 25-year-old vote in her reelection campaign, Shaheen said young people played an important role in 2008, when she was first elected to the Senate, and again in 2012.
She said even though this is not a presidential election year, she hopes students understand it is still an important election.