By DaQuan Lawrence,
Howard University News Service
Students from several schools across America recently met with Vice President Kamala Harris and senior officials from the Biden administration to discuss the current student loan forgiveness plan and college affordability, among other key issues. The meeting took place as the White House hosted a broadcast journalism event in commemoration of World College Radio Day 2022.
In addition to Vice President Harris, attendees met with Nick Conger, a senior advisor from the Climate Policy Office, Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Molina, and Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy director from the National Economic Council. Students also heard from Sheila Nix, chief of staff for the Department of Education and White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre.
Vice President Harris called attention to the importance of journalism, free speech and young leaders considering world issues such as climate change, the international rise of autocracies, the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict and threats to marginalized populations via legislation such as the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and voting disenfranchisement.
“I’m so happy to see all of our journalists here,” she told those gathered. “Your voices are so important and are going to be pivotal to moving our nation to where we need to be as we go forward –and hopefully– not backward.”
Discussing the administration’s unprecedented student debt relief program and her thoughts around the future of education and pathways to employment in the U.S., Vice President Harris said, “we should reconsider the term ‘higher education.’ Perhaps we should utilize language founded on our understanding that there’s very few jobs that provide the ability to live with dignity and go on vacation from time to time, that don’t require education after high school.”
“How about we talk about it as education after high school, and what are the various tracks that are available there?” Harris quipped. “Our clean energy work is investing in apprenticeship programs, which are rigorous training programs, that teach people to be electricians and engineers, and developing the skills that we need to build our workforce to provide jobs that pay well. We need to rethink how we talk about ‘jobs’ and focus on skills necessary instead of titles,” she said.
Ramamurti explained the importance of the National Economic Council, discussing how the agency coordinates economic policy and advises President Biden on economic decisions.
“We have a lot of federal agencies that have intersecting work on important issues, whether it’s student debt relief, affordable housing, access to affordable health care, or gas prices and energy markets,” Ramamurti said.
Nix also discussed the administration’s student debt relief program and the importance of affordable higher education in the U.S. He mentioned several aspects of the student debt cancellation plan such as transparency and accountability among colleges, the significance of community colleges and one or two-year degree programs and other pathways to post-secondary employment.
Although President Biden’s student loan cancellation plan was temporarily halted on Oct. 21 by a federal appeals court decision, which prevented any debt from being canceled, the administration has continued to encourage applications.
“During the Obama administration, I served as chief of staff to our current First Lady, Dr. Biden, who is a community college professor with a passion around how community colleges can benefit many people. We started working on the America’s College Promise program back then, and now there are a lot of cities and states that do provide two years free community college, but we’d like that to be everywhere,” Nix said.
The America’s College Promise Act of 2021, or H.R.2861, aims to provide two years of tuition-free community college to all Americans, including Dreamers, via the development of federal-state partnerships.
“We’re working with Congress to try to make that happen,” she continued.
Conger, who works in the nation’s first Climate Policy Office, highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which seeks to lower the costs of prescription drugs, health care and energy, and create decent-paying, unionized jobs throughout the country, and CleanEnergy.gov, a new website for citizens to learn about tax incentives within the Act.
“The Act is the most significant and historic achievement on climate change and puts $370 billion to work to transform our economy towards clean energy,” Conger said. According to the Congressional Budget Office, IRA would reduce deficits by $238 billion over the next decade.
Before concluding her remarks, Nix mentioned the lesser known Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, which is an enforcement mechanism students can use to file disputes against colleges they believe have affordability issues.
“Now, it’s not the fastest thing. But a lot of times, even filing the complaint can start having behavior change,” Nix said.
In her remarks, Vice President Harris referenced what she considers the duality of democracy.
“On the one hand, when a democracy is intact, it is extremely strong in terms of what it does to uplift people around principles such as having institutions in a society that foster equality, fairness and truth. The duality is that democracies, by nature, are extremely fragile and only as strong as our willingness to fight for them,” she said.
Ten schools in total were represented from the states of Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Washington, as well as Washington D.C.
Students and faculty members from the College of New Jersey, Evergreen State College, Hartwick College, Ithaca College, Landmark College, Warner College, William Paterson University, the University of West Georgia, Warwick Valley High School and Howard University attended the College Radio Day event.
Following their interviews at the White House, attendees produced a special college radio program that will be broadcasted to over 400 college and university radio stations throughout the country.
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