Oregon senator pushes bill holding colleges accountable for student job skills

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COOS BAY, Ore. - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wants to end what he calls "the college guessing game" with new legislation that’s aimed at giving students a reality check on what they can expect to earn after graduation.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is sending a clear message to college and universities across the land that will be held accountable for educating and informing both students and their family members with “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” that Wyden recently introduced in the Senate. In turn, college students here in Coos Bay and other regions of Oregon got the good news about this pending legislation – that’s aimed at aiding them – with a recent press release from Wyden’s website at http://wyden.senate.gov/. “I know my cousin is hearing Senator Wyden speak today at South Medford High School because we’re all wondering who is watching out for college students crunched by these hard times,” explained Coos Bay college student Lucretia Wilson during an April 10 Huliq interview. Wilson, who is unemployed and depending on a student loan to pay for school, also explained that she was thinking of “dropping out” because she didn’t view college “as a good investment right now.”

Senator Wyden pushes for college accountability

In turn, Senator Wyden’s press release states how “a college education is the second largest expense most families will face in their life time and college loan debt – now approaching $1 trillion – now exceeds national credit card debt. That makes a college education a huge investment, yet getting complete information about how much college will cost and what jobs that education will buy is difficult to find.” For that reason, Wyden says he introduced “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act.”

Also, Coos Bay college student Lucretia Wilson thinks “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” may be “just the solution” to the current log-jam where those nearing graduation can “look forward to a job and not just student loan bills.”

At the same time, unemployment remains alarming for high school and college workers; while the national unemployment rate for those ages 16 to 24 remains one of the groups that’s been hardest hit by the weak economy, reported Eugene’s Register-Guard newspaper April 9.

College students can’t find work in weak economy

The Eugene newspaper report featured a Bend, Oregon, student named Jesse Lederer who “couldn’t find a job” that can cover his tuition and living expenses. Thus, Lederer said he “quit college and moved in with his parents.”

Lederer explained his dilemma: “For a good portion of the jobs I applied to, I didn’t have experience in the field,” he told The Bulletin newspaper of Bend. “I tried to relate it to what work I had done, but I wasn’t necessarily qualified.”

The report also pointed to both state and national employment experts who said “the experience for Lederer as a young worker is not unique.” For example, while unemployment “has declined overall” for the Oregon and national work force, according to the Oregon Employment Department, “but youth unemployment continues to rise,” with no real hope on the horizon that a college degree amounts to a hill of beans in this uncertain economy.

For instance, the report stated how “the overall unemployment rate last year was 9.4 percent but was 19 percent for workers age 16 to 24.”

“It’s an employer’s market, and employers can pick the most experienced people,” explained Guy Tauer, a regional economist featured in the Eugene Register Guard report. Unfortunately, say college students here in Coos Bay, having a degree doesn’t make “you experienced for work in the real world.”

Student rights championed by Oregon senator

Senator Wyden’s visit to Medford, Oregon, April 10, is designed to both meet with college bound Medford High School students and to hold one of his usual town hall meetings to explain this new legislation that will impact all college students and schools in America today.

Because Coos Bay student Lucretia Wilson and others across the land are worried about their future job prospects after graduation, Wyden said in both his press release and in recent local town hall meetings “that’s the reason” why he wants to hold all colleges and universities accountable to both the students and their families who are paying these school big bucks.

In turn, Senator Wyden said he hopes “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act that will ensure future students and their families can make well-informed decisions about such things as post-graduation average annual earnings, credit accumulation and graduation rates, average cost of the program and average debt accumulation.”

Senator wants to end college guessing game

Senator Wyden is so bullish about his new bill that he says will “end the college guessing game,” that he’s taking his message to Oregon communities and Washington in hopes that this new legislation will make sure all college students “know before you go.”

In turn, Eugene’s KTVZ recently featured a report about the new bill from outside the University of Oregon that was well received by students who are plenty worried about their job futures as Oregon still leads the nation with the highest unemployment and homeless rate; while in 2011 Oregon had the “seventh-highest percent of unemployed teens in the country.”

Granted the University of Oregon “Ducks” football team recently won the famed “Rose Bowl,” that means little to Duck college students worrying about a job when they graduate.

Thus, the Eugene TV station explained how higher education is often “the ticket to success, offering opportunities to those with college degrees that those who do not have degrees are often denied.”

However, the KTVZ report also noted how it’s “extremely expensive investment that many students and families must scrimp, save and borrow in order to afford.”

College students don't have job skills

Also, when it comes to the return on that investment, students here in Eugene and Coos Bay say there is a lack of reliable information available to both students and families regarding what the likelihood and cost of student success including their post-graduation employment opportunities will be and what they can expect to earn.

Thus, Senator Wyden has said this is why he’s introduced legislation to give students and families the information they need to make better decisions about their higher education.

Also, those who support Senator Wyden’s “The Student Right To Know Before You Go Act” say it helps “connects the dots between the school you go to, what you choose to study, how long it will take, what you can expect to earn in the workforce and how much you will owe when you graduate.”

“When it comes to higher learning, too many students and families are in the dark. The cost of a four-year degree can now run north of $100,000 and students deserve to know before they matriculate what they can expect from their huge investment in money and time,” explained Senator Wyden during the KTVZ report.

"The data exists,” added Senator Wyden. “This bill simply creates an efficient way to compile it and offers it to every prospective student so they can make the best decisions about their education, while protecting student privacy. Moreover, it brings greater transparency and ensures that students, families, policy makers and taxpayers receive the return on investment they deserve from the dollars spent on higher education.”

College costs go through the roof

Between 1982 and 2007, KTVZ reported how “the cost of a college education increased 439 percent. In 2010, graduates who took out loans left college with an average debt of more than $25,000. And far too many of those graduates are stuck between the twin hardships of debt and extremely high unemployment.”

Despite this high cost, many students still think higher education is an invaluable investment as long as the students have the information they need to make the best decision for themselves.

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act gives easy access to detailed information about how much one could expect to make in any given field to prospective college students, explained Senator Wyden; while also noting how this information will help students decide not only what type of degree to pursue and where to pursue it, but also the amount of debt they may incur and give them a leg up on preparing to pay down that debt.

Fans of Senator Wyden say he’s been standing up for Oregon in the U.S. Senate since being elected in 1996. Throughout his public service, they say “Senator Wyden has earned a reputation as an independent voice for Oregonians and the nation, offering creative, common-sense solutions on issues that make a real difference in people's lives.”

Image source of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) makes a point about why government should be for the people and by the people without control from Wall Street and powerful corporations during a Jan. 8 “Town Hall” meeting in Florence, Oregon. More recently, Senator Wyden has been holding Town Hall meetings around the state promoting his new legislation titled: “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act.” Photo by Dave Masko

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