Senator Tim Kaine on the College Debt Crisis

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Answers by Tim Kaine, United States Senator from Virginia, on Quora.

A: Student debt is placing a massive burden on our college students and graduates and I'm pleased to see that both Democratic candidates have proposals to make higher education more affordable. It is important that a college affordability plan focuses on opening the doors of opportunity for those who need it. We need to give careful consideration, particularly on the fiscal front, to whether there should be some type of income test with respect to free access to college. Richer Americans, or even Americans like myself who have a plan to help their children with the cost of college, perhaps shouldn't have free access to college or get the same degree of help when there are so many young people who have worked hard but simply can't afford the cost of higher education and their parents do not have the financial means to help. Those are the students who we should focus on helping. By making all public university education free, we'd be giving away college education to richer Americans who don't need the assistance paying for it.

I think we need to be realistic and pragmatic when we look for strategies to lower the costs of college, not making promises that may be impossible to keep. Working together with our colleagues across the aisle to make meaningful reforms to higher education costs is the best path forward.

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A: Yes. An estimated 60% of Virginia college students graduate with student debt, and the average debt load in Virginia now tops $26,000 per graduate. Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, overtaking credit cards and auto loans as the country's leading source of non-mortgage debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

College affordability is an issue our country is grappling with at the national level, state level and especially at the family level. We need to get this right so students can afford to get a higher education and have a successful start to their careers without being weighed down by student loan debt. There isn't one path that will work for everyone, so we need to look at a number of strategies that enable students to succeed in the workforce. I think career and technical education and dual enrollment at community colleges can and will play a very important role.

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A: I think the government should increase awareness and access to higher education alternatives. I also believe career and technical education programs, also known as CTE, can play a pivotal role in the future of our country.

A common concern I hear when I visit CTE centers is the prohibitive cost of coursework for many in the local community looking to advance their careers. As a member and co-founder of the bipartisan Senate CTE Caucus, I've introduced a bill that would expand eligibility for federal student loans to short-term CTE programs which do not meet the current program length requirements under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This legislation will enable students and workers to participate in training programs that might have otherwise been cost prohibitive.

We also need to ensure federal higher education policies support a wide-range of career pathways that meet the demands of a 21st century economy. As Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, it is imperative that Pell Grants become more accessible to students seeking the technical skills training and credentials that meet the needs of the workforce.

Allowing students and workers to use federal loans for CTE and training programs would give more Americans seeking to earn a credential or update their skills an opportunity that may have otherwise been out of reach. This will ultimately get people greater access to the skills training necessary to meet the demands of a 21st workforce and in turn, help stimulate regional economies all across the nation.

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