Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is the youngest women in history to serve in the United States Congress. Elected at age 30, she is now in her second term at age 33. Stefanik is aware of the day-to-day challenges millennials face and serves as the voice for young people by heading up the House GOP Millennial Task Force. In an interview with Red Alert Politics, she discussed the concerns she sees with college affordability and student loan debt.
Free college programs have seen a spike in popularity following Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. This fall, Stefanik’s home state of New York now offers free tuition for in-state residents who attend the New York State or City college. The program costs the state millions and Stefanik warns against this free-for-all type of spending.
“Well, you’re going to have to pay for it somehow, and often times that translates into higher taxes and a bigger portion of the budget. I do think that it hasn’t worked as it was proposed in New York state,” she said.
Studies have shown that free college solutions are costly and often help traditional students, more so than providing additional resources to low-income students who utilize already existing aid to cover the cost of college. Non-traditional students are defined as students who need the most financial assistance as undergraduates who often have dependents or work full-time and attend school part-time.
“If you look at college students today it’s not like it was even when I was in school, the majority of college students are nontraditional so that program doesn’t necessarily fit what their needs are,” Stefanik said.
The millennial congresswoman continued to say that she’s keeping her eye on state policies that assist with college affordability to see what works and what doesn’t.
“Certainly, states are, you know, the petri dish of experimenting in policy ideas. We’ll have to see how these policies impact the states that they’ve been instituted in,” she said.
Stefanik understands the sticker shock that students and parents feel when choosing colleges. Instead of free college programs, she urges universities to look at the way Perdue University is controlling tuition inflation. According to the College Board, tuition at public four-year universities increases at an average of 3.5 percent per year. Perdue University has helped students by freezing tuition cost so that students pay a four-year guaranteed rate.
“If you enroll as a freshman, you are guaranteed that your tuition will be the same and frozen for four years. I think we will look at that as an example and have other colleges and universities address that,” she said.
Acknowledging that there is work that can also be done on the federal level, Stefanik addressed the more than $1.4 trillion dollars that American are facing in student loan debt. An initiative that she supported was restoring the year-round Pell grant, and finding ways to is modernize the student grant programs.
“Most notably the Pell Grants making that year round so that students can apply for summer Pell Grant funding graduate faster and therefore take out less student loans because you graduated faster rather than just being able to use Pell for two semesters throughout the year,” Stefanik said.
Congress approved a year-round Pell Grant program in 2008, but three years later rescinded the yearly status citing that it showed no evidence to accelerated college completion rates. In July, Congress reinstated the year-round Pell program. Pell grants are offered to undergraduate students who meet specific qualifications. Unlike student loans, these grants do not have to be repaid.