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Wyden, Merkley Highlight Efforts To Lighten Student Debt Burdens

Liam Moriarty/JPR
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden visited Southern Oregon University Wednesday to talk with students about their efforts at student debt relief.

This week, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have been visiting with college students to listen to their concerns about paying for higher education. Both Democrats are proposing measures to make college more affordable and to create more flexible terms for paying student loans. Wyden and Merkley came to Southern Oregon University Wednesday. 

About two dozen students came to talk with the senators. Several told stories of struggling to pay for their education. SOU junior Emily Pfeiffer said when she graduates with her psychology degree, she expects to be more than $20,000 in debt.

Emily Pfeiffer: "This has created stress in my life because I know the amount of student debt I have will hinder me from buying a house of starting a family once I graduate."

Senator Merkley said that’s a message he keeps hearing.

Jeff Merkley: "We have students that are extremely worried about the debt they’re incurring now, about the size of the payments they’re going to have in the future and how that’s going to constrain their options in life.”

Merkley will introduce a bill next week that would allow graduates to take up to 25 years to pay their loans, instead of ten years under the current standard plan. It would also give students the option of monthly loan payments of no more than 10 percent of their discretionary income. Merkley’s bill would also place caps on interest and allow for debt forgiveness in certain circumstances.

Senator Wyden is pushing measures to give colleges incentives to lower tuition costs, and to make sure students don’t have to pay income tax on forgiven student debt.

The Senate will soon be considering revisions to the Higher Education Act, originally signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.