As Congress debates health insurance reform and climate change, we must remember that strengthening our education system is also a great moral and economic challenge of our time. President Obama has explained that it's not enough for our economy just to recover. We must rebuild it - and that starts by making college more affordable.
But far too many of our college graduates - the teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs I've met across Ohio - are still saddled with student loan debt years after leaving school. From across the state, regardless of gender or age, degree or profession, Ohioans incur unending loan debt in excess of $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 or more.
Some of that debt is owed to private lenders who typically charge interests rates that can top 18 percent and that have few repayment options.
Ohioans shouldn't have to sign away their economic future when they sign up for college.
In the coming weeks, the Senate will take up a major bill to expand student aid and education funding - at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Student loan reform legislation would generate $87 billion in savings by ending the practice of subsidizing private lenders to make federal student loans.
For aspiring college students, student aid reform would move all federal student loans to the more efficient and less costly federal direct loan program. The billions in savings would expand Pell Grants, free up resources to modernize schools, and strengthen early childhood education. With these savings we would make college more affordable for our students.
And to help Ohioans who have already graduated, but are struggling with exorbitant student loan payments, I recently introduced the Private Student Loan Debt Swap Act. Under the "Debt Swap" bill, if you have an expensive private student loan, you could use your remaining federal student loan eligibility to pay off or pay down that loan. By swapping expensive private loan debt with low-cost federal student loans, borrowers could affordably repay their loans.
President Obama has set a national goal for producing more college graduates than any other nation as soon as possible. Student aid reform legislation would help get us there. So, too, will our community colleges.
President Obama's American Graduation Initiative would invest $12 billion in community colleges and increase the number of community college graduates by five million over the next decade. By investing in the students at Ohio's 23 community colleges, we can turn around our economy and strengthen the middle class across the nation.
That's why expansion of student aid and education funding is so important - the investments will span generations.
"Our progress as a nation," John F. Kennedy said once, "can be no swifter than our progress in education." The student aid reform bill is part of the progress that allows a student or older worker, future teacher, nurse, or entrepreneur believe that in this nation, if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll achieve the American Dream.