By Alisa Boswell
Sen. Jeff Bingaman was schooled in student finances Monday during a visit to Eastern New Mexico University.
Bingaman asked ENMU students to share with him the struggles they deal with concerning college financial aid, so that he can better know what to fight for to make school more affordable for students.
Graduate student Erin Trimboli, who is majoring in communication studies, told the five-term Democratic New Mexico senator that one of the most difficult things about student loans is graduating just to immediately be met with $30,000 in debt.
Other students in attendance agreed with her.
“It is very disheartening owing so much money immediately after graduating,” Trimboli said. “It’s a lot cheaper for me than for most. I’ve been lucky because I had the lottery scholarship.”
Trimboli said when she finishes graduate school for her master’s degree, she will only be $7,000 in debt with student loans, but most students are not so lucky.
“The size of some of the debt burden these people are accruing is much bigger than I had imagined,” Bingaman said after the visit with students. “It’s a lot of debt to be accruing.”
Director of the ENMU Financial Aid Department Brent Small told Bingaman that graduate students cannot qualify for lottery scholarships, Pell grants or subsidized loans.
Subsidized loans do not begin accruing interest until after a student graduates whereas, unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest as soon as they are opened for a student.
Small said students can receive up to $23,000 in subsidized loans during their college career and $34,000 in unsubsidized.
Bingaman said one of the most interesting points brought to his attention during the meeting was the fact that work study pay did not increase with minimum wage.
“I hadn’t heard that point before but I think it was useful to hear it,” Bingaman said. “There’s got to be more federal funding put into work studies with the increase in minimum wage.”
“I hope to be able to consider a more intelligent budget for the federal government for the Department of Education for the next fiscal year,” he added.
Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for Bingaman’s office, said the senator traveled to New Mexico universities earlier in the year to talk to them about the issue of interest rates increasing.
Congress passed a bill last month that kept the interest on federal college student loans at 3.4 percent for another year. Loans were scheduled to double without the bill.
She said now that the issue has been resolved, the senator is taking the same approach to tell students the issue is resolved and to find out what other issues he can help them with.
“Sen. Bingaman has been a big advocate for a long time for making school affordable for students,” McCartin said. “These conversations help him know what he needs to be fighting for.”
The fact-finding mission was part of a trip that also included a stop in Clovis to tour Hotel Clovis.