The Republican and Libertarian candidates for Maryland's 3rd Congressional District both came out in opposition to federal college loans—including Pell Grants—at a candidates' forum Monday night.
"The federal government is not in place to handle your college education," Libertarian candidate Paul Drgos (L-Pasadena) said. "Get the Department of Education out of here; we don’t need them."
About one-third of the students at Anne Arundel Community College receive federal grants and 20 percent use federal loans to pay for at least part of their education, according to data supplied by the college.
Nationwide, two-thirds of American students use financial aid to help pay for college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And 47 percent of all undergraduates receive federal funds.
"Making that sort of investment in education is absolutely fundamental," countered Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Towson).
The incumbent Democrat admitted his opponents' opinions on education funding surprised him. He said Dawn Lindsay, the new president of AACC, recently thanked him for his support of federal student loans.
"The worst trick you can play on somebody is to say they worked hard, they played by the rules, and they can’t take that next step in education because of means," Sarbanes said.
Republican candidate Eric Knowles (R-Annapolis) said he believes federal education funding falls outside the bounds of the powers enumerated to Congress by the U.S. Constitution.
He said he believes federal loans actually contribute to the skyrocketing cost of education because colleges know, "They are going to get their money," even though graduates are left holding larger and larger bills.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates national student loan debt at $1 trillion, and Knowles said he thinks that places an undue burden on many young Americans.
"There are two ways to crush a nation: One is with an army, and the other is with debt," Knowles said.
Sarbanes countered by saying that education drives the American economy forward.
"If those people can move forward and get their education and get a career, they become tax paying citizens and keep the economy strong," Sarbanes said. "I was a little surprised that they were so quick to disavow the role of government."
Knowles also took a swipe at a law authored by Sarbanes called the Education for Public Service Act, which forgives a portion of a person's federal student loans for a 10-year commitment to work in the public sector or nonprofit jobs.
The law passed as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act in 2007, and Sarbanes called his part an excellent way to reward Americans who invest in their communities. He said he sees it as one tool that helps to address the crisis of mounting student debt.
Knowles didn't offer specific alternatives to the Public Service Act, but he said, "The answer is definitely not being able to work for the government to work down your loan."