U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is working on a rewrite of the federal government's Higher Education Act, and wants provisions that would allow students to refinance federal college loans.
Fresh off her success at striking a bipartisan deal to replace the federal government’s biggest education law with a new one, the Every Child Succeeds Act, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was at the University of Washington last week promising a new bill to reduce the high cost of a college education.
Murray is the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and is working with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on a rewrite of the Higher Education Act. As part of that, she’s been collecting stories about student debt and how it’s upending lives after students graduate.
Murray wants the rewrite of the law to include provisions that allow students to refinance federal student loans so they can get the lower interest rates offered today. Currently, federal student loans cannot be refinanced. She also wants to increase the size of federal Pell grants, and to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which has more than 100 questions.
Murray wants colleges to present financial award letters in a consistent format, making it easier for students to compare offers from school to school.
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She’s in favor of offering financial literacy information that helps students understand what they’re signing when they agree to a loan. Students should also be able to easily find out if the degree they’re seeking will lead to a job that pays enough to make a loan worthwhile, she said.
Several students spoke about their own college challenges, including Laurie Torres, a graduate of Bradley University in Illinois and now a Washington resident. Torres said her college debt, a mix of public and private loans, total $56,000, and her federal loans carry an interest rate of 6 percent.
As the first in her family to go to college and the daughter of Filipino immigrants, she didn’t realize that the aid paperwork she was signing included loans.
Torres called the loan payback system “predatory,” with private loan servicers piling on charges that require constant vigilance.
A previous version of this story identified Sen. Lamar Alexander as a Democrat. He is a Republican.