Since the 1970s, tuition rates have risen over 1,000 percent, while state funding of universities has declined by 40 percent. And the proportion of young Americans with education debt more than quadrupled, from 5 percent to 22 percent.
Pinellas County Republican David Jolly says student debt is a serious issue, and he wants to find a way to help stem the tide. In fact, he told Florida Politics on Monday that he supports Pell Grants, and is open to a conversation about expanding them. Pell Grants are funds the U.S. government provides to students with financial need to pay their tuition costs.
The House and Senate budget proposals passed last week would freeze maximum Pell Grant awards for students at the current $5,775. In his budget, President Barack Obama is calling for Pell Grant funding to increase $30 billion over 10 years and for the maximum award amounts to continue to be tied to inflation.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus is running an ad this week in the USF Oracle criticizing Jolly for not supporting Pell Grants, after he voted against the House budget last week, one of fewer than two dozen GOP members of Congress to do so. The DCCC is running similar ads against 14 other Republican House members as well.
Jolly dismissed the ad as “noise,” adding that “it’s dishonest and disingenuous.” He said he voted against the budget because it didn’t do enough to eliminate the deficit. But regarding Pell Grants he says he’s open to a conversation about expanding their funding.
“The truth is, I’ve tried to pursue an agenda that invests and empowers all individuals,” he says, citing his support for programs like Head Start and dropout prevention programs.
In January, Maryland Democrat John K. Delaney filed legislation to help address Americans struggling with student loan debt. The Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act (H.R. 449) would make student loans dischargeable under bankruptcy. Under current law, student loan debt is treated differently than other forms of debt and cannot be discharged. Jolly says that while he’s “not there yet” in supporting Delaney’s bill because of the “moral hazard” in allowing students who graduate with debt to declare bankruptcy, he’s open to hearing dissenting opinions on that.
“I met with a federal bankruptcy judge and (she) made a very convincing argument,” he says. “She said there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be dischargeable like any other debt. A federal judge just isn’t going to just discharge student debt, but based on the merits of an individual case, they might reorganize or restructure. But in the eyes of a judge I met with this it’s no different than any other debt.”
Jolly also says going back to his campaign last year in the special election to succeed the late Bill Young he’s been talking about tying the performance of student loans to universities and colleges.
“I think we need to hold universities accountable by tying their payments to the long-term performance of the loan,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Education announced last October that the annual cohort default rate for federal student loans had declined by 1 percentage point to 13.7 percent.
Jolly says he had a recent conversation with University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft about making college more affordable. “I think we need to do better on this because the cost of higher education is too high right now,” he says.