Sen. Jeff Bingaman chats with Judy Stubbs during the ENMU-R Foundation for the Future banquet at the Civic Center, Tuesday. Mark Wilson Photo
With the issue of doubling student loan rates pending in Congress, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., spoke to the cost of higher education and addressed the issues facing the country’s educational system.
If Congress does not act by July 1, interest rates on new student debt will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Congress is expected to vote on the issue within the next couple of weeks. The real debate is centering around how the federal government can offset the costs of extending the current student loan interest rate. Speaking confidently, the senator indicated his belief that Congress will keep the current rate in place.
Bingaman was honored with the President’s Distinguished Service Award at the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Foundation for the Future Banquet at the Civic Center, Tuesday. Formed in 1999, the ENMU-R Foundation provides financial and material support in an effort to promote education at the school.
“A lot of young people just decide they can’t afford college and quit their education long before they should. The foundation is trying to allow them to stay in school and get as much training as they possibly can. Of course that benefits everyone down the road,” Bingaman said.
While it has increased its tuition by 2.5 percent, ENMU-R still prides itself on affordability. “To my knowledge that’s the lowest tuition increase of any school in the state of New Mexico … The state is actually one of the lowest in the entire country,” Dr. John Madden, ENMU-R president, said.
Bingaman correlated the creation of a strong economy with a strong educational system. “The importance of a good education is probably as clear today as it has ever been in our history. Short-change the education of the next generation and we will see the effects of that in a weakened economy as we go forward.”
Bingaman said that the federal government spends around three percent of its budget on education. A number he dubbed as a small sliver of the budget, and too low. Additionally, Bingaman emphasized the need for the United States to surpass the graduation rates of competing countries.
“The reality of our educational system is not that the education that we are providing to young people is less than it was in the past. The truth is our system of education has not seen the enormous improvement that some countries have been able to achieve and we need to try to double our efforts, to keep up and to exceed what some of these other countries are doing.”
While Congress recognizes that there is a need for job creation, and unemployment is too high,“ The realty is that there are sectors of our economy where jobs do exist. The problem is not that we don’t have the jobs; the problem is that we have trouble finding the educated, trained people to fill those jobs,” Bingaman said. He cited the country’s manufacturing, high-tech and nursing industries as suffering from a skills shortage.
“We specialize in skill areas … in aviation, automotive, welding, all the health professions, our film program, criminal justice, you name it, we do it. Those are the jobs the senator was talking about that need employment right now. My graduates do not wait for job offers. Job offers come to them,” Madden, said.