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January 21, 2014

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Charlestown High School.

For students and their families, it's college application season. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in Boston Wednesday to urge students to fill out their federal financial aid forms and talk about ways to make college more affordable. Warren also announced she would introduce legislation to assist borrowers in refinancing high interest rates on load debt.

Inside a computer lab at Charlestown High School in Boston, Warren softly engaged individual students after a rowdy high school-style pep rally. Her message was simple:

“Fill out the form!" she told the students.

Throughout her time in office, Warren has defended federal support for higher education. Today, 57 percent of all undergraduates receive some kind of federal aid. That’s up from 47 percent five years ago.

But as federal assistance has increased, Warren points out the cost of college has spiraled out of control.

“Student debt is reaching a level where it is truly dragging down the economy," she said. "Young people are not getting married and buying homes and buying cars and doing the things they’d do because they’re being crushed by student loan debt.”

Warren says many of the students who need support the most are not getting it, in part, because they’re failing to apply.

"The forms are complex," she said. "But what we’re doing here at Charlestown and across all of Massachusetts is we’re providing a lot of help.”

Senior Anyeri Almancar is ahead of the game. She’s already sent out her applications. At the top of her list: Holy Cross and Boston College. And as the first in her family to go to college, Almancar would like to study finance.

For now, though, she’s just hoping to get help in financing her education. But Almancar says all the paperwork can be overwhelming.

"Step by step," she said. "Most of the colleges I’m applying to are private colleges, so I don’t know how much money I’m going to be left with.”

Studies show when low-income families had a professional help them fill out their financial aid forms students were dramatically more likely to enroll in and complete college.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has taken some steps to hold colleges accountable and to address affordability for low-income students at a time when more good-paying jobs require higher education.

"We're on the upswing," said Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, which is just around the corner from Charlestown High. "I’m optimistic.”

Eddinger supports a plan that would tie the amount of federal aid colleges get to certain outcomes like minority enrollment. The goal is to increase college completion rates, but Eddinger says metrics for such a rating system should be fine-tuned before they’re adopted.

"How do we compare an urban college versus a suburban college, a large college versus a small college?" she said. "All of those things have to be clear and worked out. We have to have accountability. It’s our taxpayers’ money. It’s our students’ money.”

Last week, Eddinger and other college presidents met at the White House, and President Obama urged them to make commitments that might get more low-income students into and through college because government assistance, everyone seems to agree, can’t keep up with skyrocketing costs.

confronting cost, Elizabeth Warren, financial aid, increasing access and success

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