In early April, I sat down for a leisurely and candid conversation with Massachusetts Congressman John F. Tierney (D) in his Salem, Mass. office. Although our talk touched on topics as diverse as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the presidential candidates, students might breathe a sigh of relief when they hear that Tierney has plans to make college more affordable.
Tierney has several ideas for stemming rising education costs. With last year’s College Affordability and Accountability Act (H.R. 2739), he said that he wanted states to “step back up to the plate” with funding for state universities. More Pell Grants are needed, he says, and loans are more expensive than they need to be. Earlier this year, he helped pass a bill, the College Student Relief Act (H.R. 5), that cut the Stafford loan interest rate in half. A way to entice schools to find cost-saving measures is in order, he said, perhaps in the form of more work study opportunities or campus-based aid. He said that he has hopes of passing a bill this year that would reward campuses for staying within what he termed a “higher education index”. If a campus kept tuition within a certain price range, it could be rewarded with more campus-based aid and Pell Grants.
Tierney also suggested a “loan forgiveness” bill. Such a bill would “forgive” one year of educational loans for each year a student works in a service field at jobs like teaching or nursing. This would alleviate the conflict some students face when choosing a career after graduation — Tierney said he knew of students who chose a more lucrative path that did not match their interests in order to pay off student loans.
As a 1973 Salem State graduate, Tierney worked multiple jobs, including a stint as a security guard, to pay for classes. Working one’s way through college is barely, if at all, possible anymore, he said. “I just really feel strongly that we’ve got to provide some measure of action here to get schools to keep their costs down. It’s out of control.”