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Sen. Murray hears student concerns about paying for college, meets student veterans


As the federal government works toward updating and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, Washington state Sen. Patty Murray visited with Edmonds Community College students Feb. 22 to hear their concerns about paying for college and mounting student loan debt.

Roundtable discussion with Sen. Murray

Washington state Sen. Patty Murray heard Edmonds CC students’ concerns about paying for college and mounting student loan debt at a Feb. 22 visit to the college.

“We’re looking at the policy and trying to update it for today’s students,” Sen. Murray said during a roundtable discussion with Edmonds CC students.

“The best way for me to really understand and to make sure we do this right is to come and hear from you about how you afford to go to college and the barriers and challenges you face.”

The HEA authorizes many federal student financial aid programs and competitive grants to support innovation in higher education. Murray is a ranking member of the U.S. Health Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which is reviewing the current HEA policy.

Murray heard the concerns of Edmonds CC students who are struggling with immigration laws and restrictions to funding, students who are trying to work and go to school – some while raising children – and student athletes who are juggling academics, athletic schedules, and work.

While a federal grant and loans help one Edmonds CC student and single mother of three pay for tuition and books, it does not relieve the burden of rent and other bills that are stacking up.

“I went through a program to get my credit up, and then I had to apply for student loans,” said Jasmine Warner-Banks, “so that’s going to knock my credit back. I was hoping to graduate on even footing, but because of my financial responsibilities, I’m taking a step back financially just so I can make it through.”

Although it’s a struggle to stay on top of it all, Warner-Banks is determined to complete an associate’s degree in business. Her family was homeless just one year ago, but she’s had strong backing and support from members of her church and also found resources through her daughter’s elementary school. 

During the discussion, an Edmonds CC student shared her experience of being an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the U.S. since she was 6 years old. Murray asked her when found out she was undocumented.

Student veterans with Sen. Murray

(from left to right) Edmonds CC Foundation board member and veteran Steve Pennington, college Vet Corps Navigator and veteran Carl Kurfess, Student Veteran Association President Gina Penã, Sen. Patty Murray, Veterans Resource Center Director and veteran Chris Szarek, student veteran Whit Dawkins, and VA Program Manager Gloria Elliott.

“I’ve known since I was young,” she said.

As a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, she has been able to work and attend school, but that is now in jeopardy. She was not allowed to renew her DACA work permit in the fall, however, she recently received a preliminary injunction to reapply. She is still waiting for more information.

On March 8, her DACA work permit will expire, and she will not be able to keep her campus job. As an immigrant, she is not eligible for federal financial aid and cannot apply for many scholarships, making her job critical  to paying for school.

“If my work permit is rescinded, then I’ll have no job and money for college,” she said.

Murray said she was impressed by the students’ motivation to continue despite numerous barriers and obstacles. She encouraged all of the students to stay in school.

“Thank you for giving me insight into what you have to deal with,” Murray said, “so that we can make sure our federal policy actually works for today’s students.”

Murray also visited the college’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) where she met with student veterans, including Student Veteran Association President Gina Penã who served in the Navy, Veteran Affairs Work Study student Aaron Gutshall who served in the Navy, and Whit Dawkins who also served in the Navy.

VRC Director Chris Szarek presented Murray, who also serves on the U.S. Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, with a challenge coin from the Edmonds CC Foundation’s 2014 Boots to Books and Beyond capital campaign, which successfully raised $1 million toward the center and its services.

The campaign provided funding for critical on-campus support for student veterans to ensure an unbroken path from military service to college. Last year, the VRC served the needs of more than 200 student veterans and their families.

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Laura Daniali