WASHINGTON, D.C. - At a time when Hollywood celebrities face bribery and fraud charges accusing them of scamming their children into elite universities, students from less affluent families, like Bay Village native Melanie Drews are trying to figure out how to get college degrees without becoming mired in student loan debt.

Even though Drews works 40 hours a week for a company that is reimbursing her for 75 percent of her tuition at the University of Akron, and has taken a second part-time job as a bartender to pay for some of her other expenses, she has still had to take out numerous student loans at an interest rate over 9 percent.

“I have seen firsthand the negative effects student loan debt has had not only on me, but my friends and family,” said Drews. She says her boyfriend, who already graduated from college, pays roughly half his paycheck to pay off the loans he took out for college tuition, books, housing, and other necessities his family couldn’t afford.

With students accumulating unprecedented loan debt amid soaring college education costs, Drews joined Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown to plug a “Debt-Free College Act” bill that Brown has cosponsored, which is aimed at ensuring that students could graduate from public colleges without debt.

College debt has increased 170 percent since 2006 and now exceeds $1.5 trillion, which is second only to mortgage debt and surpasses credit card debt, says Brown’s office. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt is responsible for 35 percent of the decline in homeownership since 2007.

The bill would give states matching grants from the federal government that would help cover students’ college costs above their family’s expected maximum contribution, so the students wouldn’t have to take out loans. Brown says the cost of the bill - estimated at $80 billion in its first year - would be paid for by “wiping away the President tax cuts” for the richest one percent of Americans.

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