Lawmakers and students can agree that the cost of higher education has increased considerably in the last two decades.
According to the College Board 2017 Pricing Report, since the year 1988 the cost of higher education has increased 213 percent.
Rhode Island Rep. Joseph McNarmara of Cranston and Warwick introduced a new bill to increase the tools students have to make higher education more affordable.
In a press release announcing the introduction of this bill, McNamara highlighted the extreme increase in the cost of higher education, specifically the increase in student loan debt among college graduates.
Due to the increase in college tuition more students have taken out loans to pay for their education.
“I am afraid that if I don’t get a good job in the future, I’ll be stuck with the debt forever,” Dario Castillo, a University of Rhode Island freshman, said.
McNamara’s bill authorizes the creation of a state student loan ombudsman for the Commissioner of Post-Secondary Education.
According to McNamara’s press release, “the duties of the ombudsman would be to attempt to resolve complaints from student loan borrowers, compile and analyze data on such complaints, and to otherwise assist student loan borrowers.”
McNamara’s bill would work to help students refinance their loans and help provide students and loan issuers an unbiased arbiter for loan negotiations.
This new law is intended to help work alongside state and federal student loan forgiveness programs that help to ease the burden of student loans
“Many student are not fully aware of how much they are borrowing to pay for college. There is a correlation between this giving this information and student borrowing,” McNamara said.
McNamara introduced his bill nearly a year after Governor Raimondo proposed a free community college tuition plan with two years of free tuition at either Rhode Island College or URI. Raimondo proposed this legislation to encourage Rhode Island students to stay in-state, while saving money and avoiding student loan debt
Ultimately, due to last summer’s budget shutdown, the plan was scrapped for a scaled back plan that only provided free tuition to the Community College of Rhode Island.
It is expected that McNamara’s bill will make it past community and on to the floor later this session. The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee, and has been co-sponsored by several other democratic representatives.
The democrats control 62 of the total 75 seats in the House, and have enough votes to pass McNamara’s legislation.
Although Raimondo’s free college proposal was rejected by Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello on the grounds that it was financially too expensive for the state, it is likely McNamara’s bill will gain the support of the speaker because unlike a free-tuition plan, the creation of the ombudsman would not significantly change the state’s budget.