Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell told a crowd of students in the Husky Union Building (HUB) on Tuesday that she will push for more financial aid and funding for students if elected to serve another term.
Cantwell is running for re-election against Republican challenger Michael Baumgartner.
The meeting was arranged by the Young Democrats at the UW and consisted of approximately 20 students.
Cantwell said she hopes to increase the availability of federal-funded Pell grants, make student loans more affordable, and better tailor the education system to the types of jobs that have the highest demand.
“I guarantee you that education is in the center of what America needs to invest in,” Cantwell said. “I want to return to Senate and work even harder at trying to make college more affordable.”
Senior Shelby Woods, president of the Young Democrats at the UW, arranged the meeting and spoke about her own experiences as a Pell Grant student. She said she will be the first member of her family to graduate from a four-year institution, all because of the availability of financial aid.
Junior Daniel Nguyen shared a similar story. He grew up in South Seattle and attended Franklin High School. His mother is a single parent and currently unemployed, so Nguyen relies solely on Pell grants, scholarships, and other financial aid to pay for school.
“But when I think of the Pell Grant, I don’t think of myself because I know I’m covered,” he said. “I think about my little sisters Tina and Tracy. They want to go to school, but I’m worried about us being able to afford it.”
Cantwell said she hopes to make the Pell Grant program easier to apply for, as many students who are eligible fill out the application incorrectly and don’t receive as much money as they could.
“It’s almost like you need a Ph.D. to figure out how to apply for [Pell grants],” she said.
She also said she wants to increase the amount of funding allocated to the program — and said the money should come from the U.S. defense budget and Wall Street. She said educational spending would have a better impact on society than spending money on foreign wars. In addition, she said Wall Street has a moral responsibility to help Americans plan for their futures.
“I frankly think Wall Street caused this financial implosion,” Cantwell said, “and we gave them a bunch of money to bail them out.”
For students who aren’t eligible for Pell grants, Cantwell discussed student loans as a means of increasing access to education. She said legislators in Washington, D.C., have the ability to drive down costs of student loans, but they need to make the issue a priority.
“We don’t want students coming out of a four-year degree paying the equivalent of a home mortgage,” she said.
One of Cantwell’s ideas for reforming higher education in Washington state is to better tailor educational opportunities to the types of jobs that are most in-demand. She said there is a high need for engineers and computer programmers in the Seattle area, but local universities don’t have enough open spots for those majors.
“We need to better match the needs of companies with the slots that we have here,” Cantwell said.
She said the process of preparing students for engineering and technology jobs needs to begin in high school, and she suggested that all Washington high-school students be required to take a year of computer programming courses.
Washington state needs to look at recent health care reforms as a model for reforming higher education, Cantwell said. She said the state government has made significant progress in reforming the efficiency of Medicare — and the health care system as a whole.
“Our American society has stepped up to the plate time and time again and reinvented itself,” Cantwell said. “So I’m confident that we can do it now.”
Reach reporter Amelia Dickson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ameliadickson
Please read our Comment policy.