By Charlie Smart

On Monday evening, Connecticut representatives John Larson and Joe Courtney along with Connecticut state senator Gregg Haddad held an open forum in Oak Hall to discuss the rising cost of college. The event was organized by UConn’s chapter of PIRG, a public interest and advocacy group.

Congressman Courtney discussed throughout the night why he believes the cost of college education to be such a serious concern, especially in the state of Connecticut. He said that the wealth of Connecticut was not built from cash crops or oil, rather from the state’s, “incredibly talented population,” whose success depends on their education. He went on to say that for this state, the question of higher education is one of survival.

Each representative spoke about their plans for the future of higher education before opening the floor up to questions from the students in the audience. One student, who recently moved to the United States from Greece asked the representatives what they thought about the education model used in some European countries where tuition is entirely free.

Congressman Courtney said that while a change like that would be radical, the vast discrepancy in college costs between the US and other countries must be addressed. Congressman Larson addressed universal education by mentioning a plan outlined by President Obama in January to make community college free for all students. He compared this plan to past legislation that mandated K-12 education for all children.

Congressmen Larson and Courtney pose with UConn PIRG event organizers after the forum on Monday. (Photo by Charlie Smart)

As the congressmen discussed plans to reduce student loan interest rates, UConn Student Government External Affairs Chair Adam Kuegler asked what their thoughts were on the potential for schools to increase tuition in response to such measures. The congressmen briefly discussed plans to set up incentives for schools to not raise tuition as a part of future legislation.

As the evening went on, the congressmen addressed concerns from students on all aspects of college affordability from loans for low-income families to high textbook prices. The tone of the discussion was generally optimistic. Congressman Courtney often mentioned Senator Elizabeth Warren’s education bill which would allow millions of people to refinance their student loans at a lower interest rate. That bill has not yet been passed.

The discussing ended with Congressman Larson reiterating that a four year college education is not the only path to success, making a lighthearted comment about how during the recent snow storms, electricians, plumbers, and plow drivers are, “some of the most important people on the face of the earth.”

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