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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

SGA President Ndiritu Joins U.S. Senators in Capitol Hill Roundtable Discussion on Student Debt

Old Dominion University Student Government Association (SGA) President Christopher Ndiritu recently joined student leaders from 20 Virginia colleges on Capitol Hill for a student debt roundtable with U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.

During the event, students discussed challenges they face paying for college and the impact of rising student loan obligations. In addition to sharing their concerns, many of the student leaders urged more transparency and flexibility in the college loan application and repayment programs.

Ndiritu said he is concerned at the conclusion of every semester with how he will afford to pay for the next one.

"As a first-generation student, having adequate financial assistance is typically a significant concern," he said. "It was a relief knowing that Senator Warner and Senator Kaine recognize college debt as a crisis in America on a federal level."

When the senators asked for feedback about campus programs, Ndiritu suggested creation of a program like LEAP 1 and Leap 2 at ODU.

"I mentioned the harsh reality that students are often forced with when they've graduated and do not have a clue about the interest rate and responsibilities they have," Ndiritu said. "The LEAP programs intentionally pair students up with paid positions on campus that relate to their major and/or career path. The LEAP programs also offer financial literary courses that help students understand their financial responsibility and the realities of borrowing money."

According to a statement from Senator Warner's office, an estimated 60 percent of Virginia college students graduate with student debt, with an average that now tops $26,000 per graduate. Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt - the country's leading source of non-mortgage debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, lawmakers will consider a proposal to allow borrowers to refinance existing loans to achieve lower interest rates. Some senators have united behind a package of initiatives, dubbed #InTheRed, designed to address college affordability and student debt issues. Both Virginia senators have introduced proposals as well, the statement said.

"These campus leaders offered compelling personal stories to illustrate the crippling impact of student loan debt on a generation of young Virginians, limiting their options and opportunities as they graduate and join the workforce and plan their futures," Sen. Warner said, in the release. "As the first person in my family to complete college, I know that if I had graduated with today's levels of student debt, I would not have had opportunities to try - and to fail - with several of my early business ventures."

Sen. Kaine has introduced legislation intended to address college affordability concerns, including increased dual enrollment options for high school students and additional tools to help students and families better calculate college costs. Kaine has also introduced the "Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act," legislation that would amend the Higher Education Act by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term job training programs.

"Senator Warner and I hosted this roundtable to hear directly from student leaders at universities and colleges across Virginia on ways we can help alleviate the burden of student loan debt, which has surpassed credit card debt in America. We also discussed pathways that can make higher education more affordable, including dual enrollment courses during high school and career and technical education programs," Sen. Kaine said in a statement. "I'm focused on college affordability because students should be able to afford a higher education and have a successful start to their careers without being weighed down by insurmountable debt."

In addition to Ndiritu, the roundtable included student representatives from Christopher Newport University, the College of William and Mary, Ferrum College, George Mason University, Hampton University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Mary Baldwin College, Norfolk State University, Radford University, Randolph-Macon College, Richard Bland College, Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College, University of Mary Washington, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University and Virginia Union University.