Investing in our youth, our future

As the deadline draws near for Congress to find a solution to the immenent doubling of student loan interest rates - I am reminded of the ambitious, hard working, and dedicated students who have worked by my side this year and the challenges they face after graduation. We owe the next generation of our workforce more than this.

Sonia Ashe

In early May, three young Iowans dressed in their best business attire and accompanied me to a meeting with President Barack Obama at the University of Iowa prior to his speech addressing the rising cost of higher education. My partners in activism were Tisleen Singh, Greg Larson, and Emily Harmon.

Tisleen Singh is a recent graduate of Drake University, who took a job working as an Admission Counselor at the University. She hears every day from families unsure of their ability to afford a college education for their child; they are all nervous for what the future holds and concerned about the amount of debt that their son or daughter will inevitably accrue. There is little that Tisleen can do to calm these fears.

Greg Larson is also a graduate from Drake University, he just finished up this past May after two years of working as student body president. Greg wouldn’t have been able to pursue his education if it hadn’t been for the help of Stafford Student Loans. Even as a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative – he sees making an investment in our students entering the workforce  as one of the most common sense ways we can put our tax dollars to work.

Emily Harmon is a current student of Iowa State University, with a strong ambition to make a difference in the world following graduation. She anticipates working in the non-profit community, and hopes to have an impact on human rights issues in the U.S. and abroad. Emily knows that her idealism will come at a cost, and that she likely won’t see a large paycheck for a long time. One of the things that will allow her to make that choice and pursue her dreams, is the promise of low student loan interest rates following graduation.

As we drove to Iowa City together, and reviewed what we wanted to express to President Obama, it struck me how well these young Iowans understood the severity of this issue and how much I wished our decision makers would take the time to realize the dangerous impact of playing politics with the future of our next generation.

Now, two months later, our decision makers have yet to reach a firm agreement – and we only have two days left to extend the low 3.4 percent interest rates. Student debt in the U.S. is estimated to have exceeded $1 trillion – with students in Iowa carrying the 3rd highest level of debt in the country, each shouldering an average of $29,000 in student loans.

If we are to truly recover our economy and our workforce, we need to allow those entering the workforce a opportunity to do so without looming debt, with the ability to save money, buy a mortgage, pay taxes, and take the risks necessary to grow their own businesses. It is up to us to hold our decision makers responsible, and make sure they do the right thing by extending low interest rates for student loans immediately.


Sonia Ashe