Give every student the opportunity to go to college

By
October 30, 2014

As a proud alumna of Mills, I find inspiration in the work and passion of the students, faculty and staff who make this institution great.

The women that attend Mills College represent some of the best and brightest minds of their generation.  In choosing to pursue a higher education at Mills, these students are working to establish a brighter future for themselves, their families and communities and our nation.

Mills continues to lead the way in inclusion and progress, including adopting a trans-inclusive admissions policy, advancing sustainability policies inside and outside the classroom and supporting the next generation of artists, innovators and activists. Especially important to my work in Congress, members of the Mills community champion peace in the Bay Area and our interconnected world.

The Mills community has always been there to support me.

When I was a student in the 1970s, raising two small boys and struggling to put food on the table, I learned the power of activism and community engagement from my fellow students.

The community was there for me again in the wake of the tragic Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. When Congress passed a hastily written and overly broad blank check for endless war, I was the lone vote opposing the measure.  While I experienced hostility from colleagues and strangers alike, the Mills community had my back.

In solidarity, women at Mills College coined the phrase, “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me.” It remains my slogan today.

The support of the students, faculty and staff helped me through those dark days and drive my efforts to stop endless war.

In Congress, I’m still working to speak for Mills students and young people across this country. Young people who wake up every day determined to change the world but are too often left without a champion in Congress.

When I attended Mills, it was possible to pay for a year of college with a minimum wage summer job. Today, affordable higher education is moving further and further out of reach for many students.

For those who do attend school, seven out of ten will leave with student loan debt.

This student loan debt now weighs heavily on our economy; it is the second largest source of household debt in America. Because of this massive debt burden, college graduates are postponing key milestones like buying homes, getting married and having kids.

We need to do a better job of easing the loan burden for young people juggling student debt and burgeoning careers.

To that end, I’ve co-sponsored the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which allows students to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.

I have also co-sponsored The Protecting Educational Loans for Underserved Students Act which prevents discrimination in federal lending due to poor credit history. This bill would take the important step of leveling the playing field for students and families with low credit scores. No student should be denied a chance at higher education because of their family’s financial history.

We also need to provide more federal resources for students.

For more than 40 years, Pell grants have helped Americans achieve higher education. Sadly, next year, they will cover the smallest percentage of college costs since the program began. Yet, my Republican colleagues keep looking at this program for further austerity cuts.

It is time for Congress to stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of students and start making sure everyone pays their fair share. I’m in Congress fighting for this every day.

For more than 40 years, I’ve found support and guidance from the Mills community, and I am honored to represent Mills in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As Congress approaches the challenges of today and tomorrow, I will continue to speak for those on this campus and campuses across the country.  I will continue to demand that college is accessible, affordable and diverse. I ask that you join me in this fight and demand real action for students and students’ families as they pursue degrees that broaden their futures and the future of our country.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Mills alumna, represents California’s 13th Congressional District in Congress. 


Give every student the opportunity to go to college was published on October 30, 2014 in Column, Opinions

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