Congressman Himes Discusses Solutions to Spiraling Cost of Higher Education

Congressman Jim Himes speaks at a town hall meeting March 19 at UConn Stamford.

John Bolognino

Congressman Jim Himes speaks at a town hall meeting March 19 at UConn Stamford.

John Bolognino, Connection Time News Producer

Fourth District Congressman Jim Himes discussed creative solutions to the spiraling cost of higher education at a town hall meeting at UConn Stamford on Tuesday, March 19. About a hundred people turned out to speak with Himes on topics including healthcare, border security, the Green New Deal and the student loan crisis. Himes suggested a number of solutions to the problem of the runaway cost of higher education including legislation.

Himes said he is currently working on a bill with Senator Chris Murphy “that would try to hold colleges accountable when they raise their tuition prices faster than inflation is rising.” Himes admitted that there is difficulty in this approach: “Of course the federal government can’t tell Yale or Quinnipiac or UConn how much to charge.”

Another problem Himes pointed out is the availability of low-interest student loans. “Yeah, we want to make student loan interest rates low, we do. Just because student loans are cheap, in some ways that’s an incentive for students to take on more debt and for universities to charge even more,” Himes said. According to the Federal Student Aid website, the average interest rate on undergraduate student loans is 5.05 percent. Using an interactive student loan payoff calculator, Stamford High School Microeconomics Teacher Jeremy White demonstrated that, although this may seem like a low rate, if the payment is spread out over long enough a period, students could end up paying more in interest than they do to pay off the loan itself.

According to an article in Forbes magazine, graduates walk away with an average of $37,172 in loans. The article claims that student loan debt is destroying the U.S. economy, and Himes seems to agree: “A graduate who’s graduating with $130,000, 150,000 worth of debt— they’re not buying a car, they’re not putting a down payment on a home, they’re not eating in restaurants, they’re servicing that debt, and that’s an economic problem.”

Legislation is not the only way the congressman says we should approach the problem. “We’re all obsessed with four-year college…Baloney!,” he said. During the town hall meeting, Himes suggested that we need to stop obsessing over a traditional four-year college experience and embrace other routes to career success. “You know what are some secure jobs out there? Plumbers, construction people, data technicians, electricians, electrical line workers.” Himes went on to point out that “these are all middle-class jobs or better that aren’t going anywhere.”

Stamford High School Guidance Counselor Francine Moavero echoed Himes’s sentiment, “I’m glad to hear Himes is saying that,” she said, “2008 was probably the last time we had a wood shop. We used to have other options for kids, options that allowed them to explore trades without having to go to Wright Tech. If students don’t have the opportunity to experience these trades, they won’t know it’s an option for their future.”

The numbers give credence to these concerns. School profile reports indicate that the percentage of graduates who move on to vocational schools has dropped from 7.4% in 2013 to 2.7% in 2017.

Town hall meetings provide the public with an opportunity to meet and speak with the politicians that represent you and make laws on your behalf. These are the opportunities to make sure your voice is heard!

View the full footage of the Town Hall Meeting Here