Rep. Jared Polis discusses college affordability, undocumented students

Erin Douglas

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis met with a variety of students Tuesday morning to discuss higher education affordability and the steps Congress may take in the future to remedy the rising cost of attending a university.

Polis invited students to share their stories about how they have been able to make college more affordable.

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“Our (Congress’) policies directly impact college affordability — whether that is simplifying FAFSA, making textbooks cheaper or creating income-based payment on student loans,” Polis said. “I want to hear how we can make CSU, and college in general, within reach.”

Photo: Caio Pereira
(Photo credit: Caio Pereira.)

Students at the round table voiced their concerns on a variety of issues, including the difficulties associated with finding and receiving financial aid, the fear of being unable to afford loan payments after graduation and the challenges undocumented students face in receiving scholarship or grant money.

“There are problems with the middle class,” said Destini Hall a CSU student. “If you’re in the lower end (of income) then you get aid, and if you are in the higher end then you can pay for it. Unfortunately for me, that means that I don’t get very much aid.”

Tom Biedscheid, the director of Student Financial Services, echoed Hall’s concerns with the middle class. Middle-income student enrollment at CSU has dropped in recent years because of this limitation and frequent concern, said Biedscheid.

“You don’t make enough to live on so you take more jobs,” said Kebrina Chirdon, a senior social work student who holds three jobs. “It is an incredible struggle. There is no way to live on a work study wage and go to school.”

Biedscheid said student financial services is aware of this problem, but they do not receive enough money to fund all the work study jobs that are available on campus. Federal allocation of work study funds have been flat the past 15 years, Biedscheid said.

Two undocumented students also spoke at the round table. Both experienced issues receiving aid to go to college in Colorado, even though they had lived in Colorado for the majority of their lives. They were also concerned about how to find a legitimate job after graduation.

“I feel punished for the mistakes our parents made,” said Brayan Montes-Terrazas, an undocumented student studying business. “There are incredibly smart people who are not given the opportunity to be successful.”

Polis responded by explaining that current measures to protect undocumented students were through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order by President Obama. DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before they were 16 years old to receive a work permit and exemption from deportation. However, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship.

“What we hope to do is fix this so that people can become citizens,” Polis said. “Hopefully, not too many more people will have to go through what you did. It is important to pass the legal change with a pathway to citizenship because there are many people running for president that say they would get rid of (DACA) right away.”

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Polis and other members of the House of Representatives have introduced two bills to reduce the cost to students of higher education.

The Affordable College Textbook Act would provide grants to encourage universities and other organizations to provide students with low cost or free open source textbooks.

The Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act would implement an automatic repayment plan for student loans after graduation based on income. A previous version of this bill failed in 2013, but it now has bipartisan support in the house.

Collegian Reporter Erin Douglas can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @erinmdouglas23.