Mr. President, I want to thank Senators Harkin, Warren, and Durbin for their leadership on the important issue of student debt. In the United States we all appreciate the value of education. We know it leads to higher paying jobs, and we know it leads to better health and even longer lives. Education gives everyone in this country a fair shot. 

My grandpa never graduated from high school. He worked 1,500 feet underground in the mines in Ely, MN. He [Page: S2769]
saved money in a coffee can in the basement so he could send my dad to college. My dad went to a community 2-year college and then went on to the University of Minnesota, where he earned his journalism degree. He went from those hard-scrabble mines in Ely, MN, on to a journalism career where he got to interview everyone from Mike Ditka to Ronald Reagan to Ginger Rogers. My mom taught second grade until she was 70 years old. I still run into people who tell me what a great teacher she was. And here I stand, a U.S. Senator, the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman, and the first woman elected to this job from my State. One thing I know for sure: It would not have been possible without education. It would not have been possible without my parents, my grandparents, and my teachers, who believed in me and believed in the value of education. 

I still remember getting into college. I still remember back then--and I graduated from high school in 1978--that it was $10,000 a year to go to the college I went to. I remember my dad thinking: I can't afford this. We went and met with the student loan and financial aid people. He was wearing his brown polyester pants, and he had all these coins in his pockets. Somehow we were able to get this done through loans and through his financing a good part of it. Back then, on a journalist's salary 
and my mom's teacher salary, we were able to afford a college like that. But now I see my daughter and I know how much it has changed and how expensive it is. Yet it is still so necessary. 

Higher education doesn't just benefit individual students, it benefits our entire economy by creating a more flexible, productive, and mobile workforce at a time when more jobs require some form of postsecondary education. In manufacturing now, more jobs require postsecondary education than not. We cannot allow cost to be a barrier to opportunity when we have job openings right now. 

I see my friend the Senator from North Dakota, and I know they have job openings in North Dakota. We have job openings in Minnesota. We have job openings that require skill, that require post-high school skills. Yet a lot of our kids can't afford to get those degrees. 

Rising costs for education are putting a strain on families and students and making college seem out of reach for too many young people. Many find themselves deeply in debt long before they set foot in the workplace. 

This student debt hangs like an anchor around not just these students but around our entire economy, and it is dragging us down. Graduates with high debt may delay making key investments, such as saving for retirement or getting married or buying a home. 

We had a hearing today in the Joint Economic Committee with Chairman Yellen of the Federal Reserve, and she talked about the fact that while our economy is improving, housing is still flat. She talked about the fact that housing is flat because so many young people aren't forming households. They are not getting houses. 

Student debt may impact a person's career choices by deterring graduates from taking jobs in order to pursue jobs that allow them to pay their debt. So we don't have people going into teaching. 

According to the report I released as Senate chair of the Joint Economic Committee, our State has one of the highest rates of student debt in the country, with 71 percent of recent graduates in Minnesota having a loan debt compared to 66 percent nationally. The average debt load of student borrowers who graduated in 2011 in Minnesota is also more than $3,000 higher than the national average. It is over $30,000 in our State compared to $27,000 nationally. 

The good news is that there are things we can do. As you know, Mr. President, last summer we acted to prevent the interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans from doubling. Yesterday we introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act in the Senate. This bill would give student loan borrowers a fair shot at managing their debt by offering them the opportunity to refinance their debt at the same low rates offered to new borrowers in the student loan program. 

Outstanding student loans now total more than $1.2 trillion. That even means something in Washington. It surpasses total credit card debt and affects 40 million Americans. That is why I am a cosponsor of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act--because it is time we gave students a chance to refinance their loans and find better financial footing. 

Education is the pathway to economic opportunity. Workers with higher levels of education have experienced much faster wage growth and lower unemployment rates than other workers. But the increasing level of student debt in recent years presents challenges for graduates just beginning their careers. These bright young people should be planning for their futures, not struggling financially because they worked hard to earn their degrees. 

Our country has come a long way since my grandpa saved that money in a coffee can in his basement so he could send my dad to college. There are parents all over America who want to do the same thing, but the money they have to save right now couldn't fit in a coffee can. That is why we have to make it easier and not harder for our students. 

I urge my colleagues to support this bill and pass this bill so students can manage their debt and build a better future for themselves and for their families. 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.