Weekly Columns

I recently had an opportunity to visit some of our state’s excellent universities and got a firsthand look at the innovative ways two of Arkansas’s universities are training students for today’s job market. 

At the University of Central Arkansas, I saw a partnership between the school’s nursing program and a local hospital that will dramatically help address our state’s growing nurse shortage.  

While at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, I had a chance to tour its brand new nanotechnology center.  This state-of-the-art center that prepares students for a future in the exciting new world of nanotechnology—which, in laymen’s terms, is working with matter on an atomic and molecular scale. 

These innovative programs at UCA and UALR are perfect examples of how Arkansas’s universities are moving forward with the future in mind.  Our higher education institutions are in an elite class.  We are blessed with top notch facilities and premiere educators.  But that comes at a price. 

As tuition rises, the dream of a college diploma often feels out of reach for many young Americans.  This is why the Stafford Student Loan program is so important.  Loans help students overcome obstacles they face when it comes to accessing a quality, affordable education.  

If Congress does not act before July 1st to extend the current interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford college loans, the rate will double for new borrowers.  We all agree this needs to be done, but there are competing ideas on how to pay for the extension.  

Majority Leader Harry Reid would like to fund the extension by raising taxes on our small businesses.  This is the wrong approach.  It will only make it harder for graduates to enter the work force as yet another tax increase will continue to slow job growth.  A college diploma can only get you so far if there are no jobs to found upon graduation.  

While giving Arkansas's students access to the very best education possible at an affordable rate, we must also work to ensure that there is a healthy job market waiting for them after graduation. 

We have the lowest employment-to-population ratio for young adults since 1948.  Over half of Americans under 25 who hold a bachelor’s degree are unemployed or underemployed.  Nearly 25 million adults live at home with their parents, not out of choice, but because they can’t find work or earn enough to survive on their own.  

Any way you cut it, college graduates ready to chase the American dream have a huge roadblock awaiting them in this economy. 

That is why I support a proposal that freezes the student loan interest rate increase for a year by taking money from an unused Obamacare account to pay for it. It is likely this money will never be spent, so let’s use it for a reason we all support: protecting student loans.     

Student loans are supposed to increase access to college. By helping millions of Americans earn a college degree, the student loan program should be a gateway to the workforce, not a barrier.  Any extension of the low rate loans paid for by tax increases is simply that—a barrier because tax increases stifle job creation. Let’s fix the problem without making our economic situation worse and get our graduates working again.