U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin engaged 10 Anne Arundel Community College students recently in talks about how they are financing their college education and ways they think the federal government could alter existing programs to make college more affordable.
Cardin is visiting colleges around Maryland to gather firsthand knowledge about the challenges college students face. AACC is his first stop at a community college. “I can get all the facts about how many students in Maryland use the Pell grant or some of the other federal programs from Congressional Research, but it wouldn’t give me the same information as I can get from talking to you face-to-face,” he said.
Most of the students at the roundtable discussion are working two to three jobs in addition to the tuition and textbook help they receive from grants, scholarships and loans. Several students are about to graduate from AACC and are facing a decision on whether to use the education and training they have received to get a job with the hope that an employer might help finance their continued studies or take out loans to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Cardin recognized the tough choices. He heard from a student on Social Security Disability about how the transfer of disability funding to the Pell Grant is working and from a veteran about the gaps in payment between academic terms. The students receiving grants from federal government training programs were grateful for covering the cost of tuition and books, even though they still needed jobs to cover the cost of living. And all of them hoped to minimalize the need for student loans, concerned about debt.
Cardin plans to propose some solutions. He hopes Congress can help by allowing students to refinance loans from current 7 or 8 percent interest rates to 3.8 percent interest, to increase the amount of Pell Grants and to extend Pell Grants to cover summer classes.
The important message he wanted to leave with the students is “Don’t give up your dream. Look for tools, for ways to make it happen. Education is so important, pursuing your dream is so important, but do it in a smart way,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you succeed, we all succeed.”