In the News

A think-tank queen vying for a seat at DC's table: Gothamite Heather McGhee brings her passions for performance and policy to the political stage. And she's got a big-name ally.

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Education-loan borrowing among students pursuing an associate’s degree has increased significantly in the past decade, particularly among low-income students. For the 2011-2012 academic year, 55% of students who received Pell Grants and earned associate’s degrees also graduated with debt, according to a 2015 report from Demos, a progressive policy group in Washington, D.C.

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With college tuition costs at an all-time highDemos, a D.C.-based public policy organization, recently proposed a debt-free college initiative.

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An analysis of competitive House races in the 2014 midterms by MASSPIRG and the think tank Demos confirmed that such a program could fundamentally change the balance of power in Congressional elections. The study found that, between the top two vote-getters in the 25 most competitive districts, only 14% of the donations secured were less than $200. Meanwhile, the analysis looked at grassroots-backed candidates of both parties and found that a small donor match would have substantially limited, or even flipped, the money advantage in their races.

"Debt-free" might not sound as sexy as simply "free," but O'Malley's approach could in fact create a more effective mandate for radically reducing the cost of college in the United States.
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“The decline in state funding for state colleges and universities is the main driver of what’s increasing costs,” says Mark Huelsman, senior policy analyst at Demos, a liberal think tank. He’s the author of a 2014 proposal for increasing public higher education funding that he says has drawn interest from several presidential primary candidates.

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Policy makers are also exploring ways to maintain a safety net for seniors with defaulted student loans, while still ensuring the Education Department gets the money it’s owed. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and McCaskill, Democrats from Massachusetts and Missouri, respectively, sent a letter to the GAO earlier this year asking for more information about the financial and loan status of seniors losing their benefits.

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European countries also differ substantively from the US in terms of the percentage of college attendees that their debt free models serve.

“Germany has a lower percentage of students go on to college than we have here in the US,” Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at think tank Demostold ATTN.

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Over the past 10 years, the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization's Project on Student Debt has been laser-focused on this issue. Their first big campaign, backed by a broad range of student and education groups, was to introduce income-based repayment for loans, a proposal adopted by the Obama administration and passed into law in 2007.

Asher's group isn't the only policy shop that recognizes that student debt is having a moment.

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South Carolina may soon address the threat of white-supremacist terrorism with more realistic, acute legislation.

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