Walsh talks college costs in Missoula


MISSOULA, Mont. - Senator John Walsh stopped at the University of Montana Monday for a townhall-like session on the cost of higher education.

Walsh recently sponsored a bill that would cap interest rates for student loans at 4 percent. Today, some federal loans have interest rates as high as 8 percent.

Walsh and U of M officials noted that paying off student debt sooner lets those individuals contribute to the economy sooner as well. While capping interest rates helps people who are already in debt, most of the assembled students and staff wanted solutions on how to keep students from getting that debt in the first place.

There was a consensus from University staff that more financial education is needed so students realize how thousands of dollars of debt will affect them.

Other questions included issues regarding balancing education quality with cutting costs, opportunity for students to earn more college credit in high school, and issues involving federal Pell grants.

In Montana average tuition and fees increased 55 percent during the last 10 years. During the 2013-2014 academic year, total tuition and fees averaged $6,399 -- below the average of $8,046 in the western U.S. Only Alaska and Idaho have lower tuition in the 15 western states surveyed by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

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