By Janae Reinhardt, Guest Writer

“Why are we all poor?” — this was the primary question panelists posed during Monday’s Higher Education, Lower Debt panel.

This event, hosted by Students of the Left, welcomed Pacific Lutheran University students and faculty into Anderson University Center room 133 and allowed attendants to raise any and all questions regarding the outstanding weight of student debt that recent and upcoming college graduates carry.

The expert panel included sociology Assistant Professor Laura McCloud, adjunct music professor Jane Harty and Alliance for a Just Society representative Jason Collette.

Harty began by providing an informative handout highlighting some statistics related to student debt. She spoke about her experiences on where her own student debt as well as her children’s debt has left her.

“I can’t afford to retire,” Harty said. “Not many will be able to.”

As stated on the Jobs With Justice handout, the Department of Education has a portfolio of $1.1 trillion in student loans and holds enough assets to be one of the country’s 10 largest banks. However, it lacks the capacity required to manage the assets effectively.

A major problem students and panelists all touched on is how government assistance is labeled and presented to students. Many felt as though the reality of debt is diminished through terms such as “aid” and “gift” that are associated with student loans.

“Loans are not aid,” McCloud told attendants. “I’m cool with loans, but I’m not cool with them being labeled something they’re not.”

Attendants learned the average debt a PLU student graduates with is $31,320.

In response to that statistic, one student in attendance asked, “What can we do tangibly to lobby for students who are stuck with this debt?”

Panelists agreed that raising awareness is key in making progress toward resolving the issue concerning high student debt.

“Get organized,” Collette suggested.

Kristin Plaehn, the senior adviser to President Krise, attended the panel to gain insight on the issue from the perspectives of faculty and students.

She stressed the importance of students finishing their degrees in 4 years, or two years if a transfer student. She cautioned that if students take more than the 4-year or 2-year average attaining a degree, students will cease to receive various student aid provided by PLU and may have to turn to expensive loans to cover tuition costs.

“Just finish out,” Plaehn said. “If not, you’ll have all of the same student debt without a degree to show for all of your hard work.”

Another student in the audience asked about the increase in PLU tuition and questioned whether or not increases can be halted.

“If you raise the cost of tuition, raise the amount of scholarship money,” Harty said. “Make it fair, because right now, it just isn’t.”

First-year Kalina Springer said she appreciated the panel and hopes students entering college will come to have better access to information similar to what the panel offered.

“I know a lot of students don’t have a college fund,” Springer said. “I think that high school students should have access to panels like this. We shouldn’t be waiting until we’re already in debt to think about debt.”

At the closing of the panel, junior Carly Brook, a member of Students of the Left, called attendants into action and invited them to join in on the People Over Profit Solidarity March that happened at 5:30 p.m. yesterday in Red Square.

The march was open to all PLU students as well as the public and focused on demands for justice for student debt, immigration reform and workers rights.

“We’re all in this together,” Brook said. ◼︎

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