We all believe a college degree should provide our students with opportunity, and we know that having one helps ensure future earnings and success.
Unfortunately, the cost of a college degree can create major obstacles that keep young people from enrolling, prevent them from graduating or saddle them with long-term financial burdens.
Last year, 62 percent of college graduates in Michigan left school with an average of $29,450 in federal loan debt alone, according to the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). That’s a nearly $11,000 increase from graduates 10 years prior.
And once they do graduate, almost 40 percent leave the state, taking their knowledge and talent elsewhere. We can’t afford to lose the next generation of leaders, innovators and creators to other states. As legislators and citizens, we’re obligated to make Michigan a place where graduates can live, work and raise families without undue hardship.
The Center for Michigan has made great strides in advancing the college affordability conversation by producing reports, hosting forums and analyzing the problem from many different angles. The next steps include lawmakers developing and enacting comprehensive policy solutions to address the growing debt epidemic.
In fact, the Senate recently approved bipartisan legislation — that Senator Goeff Hansen and I cosponsored — to expand and improve Michigan’s Promise Zone program. The bills, based off the extremely successful Kalamazoo Promise, allows local communities to pool resources and use tax increment financing to help all students afford a college education.
Additional legislation introduced in the House and Senate would provide welcome tax relief, too. Eligible individuals would be able to claim an income tax credit equal to 50 percent of the amount of qualified student loan payments made during the tax year. Funds saved by this tax credit could help students get ahead instead of falling behind within months of graduation.
We also need to give prospective students the tools they need to make the best financial decisions about their education. College counselors should have extensive training that will help families navigate the complicated landscape of scholarships and financial aid. Students need trusted third parties to advocate for their interests. Further, we should consider additional protections for borrowers to increase accountability and reduce predatory lending.
My colleagues and I are committed to supporting legislation that make a difference in our students’ lives. When more people have the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education, join the middle class and stay there, they are more likely to work, live and spend their money here in Michigan.