Metro

AG, Chamber of Commerce form group to address student loan debt

Seeking to bring together the business community, higher education institutions, and state government, Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday announced a new working group with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to tackle the thorny issue of student loan debt.

“It’s a serious problem, and it’s a huge priority for our office. Nationally, more than 40 million students have debt, and it’s close to exceeding $1.3 trillion,” Healey told a chamber breakfast meeting in Boston. “It is the largest form of debt in our country, and it is growing.”

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In Massachusetts, 65 percent of college graduates carry loan debt. On average, a graduate of a four-year private or nonprofit college leaves school with $29,391 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

The Bay State has the 14th-highest percentage of graduates with debt and the 11th-highest average debt load, according to the institute.

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“It’s crippling because these kids aren’t even out of the gate and they’re saddled with this debt,” the attorney general said. “I think what we envision is getting a group of folks together who are going to help us think through the right recommendations, things that we can do that are concrete, that are meaningful, not pie in the sky or not things that we don’t necessarily have control over.”

Healey said she is not certain who will serve on the working group, but the chamber’s chief executive, James Rooney, said he wants to involve chamber members who can lend their expertise.

“We have within the chamber a lot of people who are very good experts on finance and money and debt, and I’m sure we’ll be calling on them to help us,” he said.

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The chamber is an ideal partner to attack the issue, Healey said, because student debt threatens to slow economic growth as graduates are forced to put off buying homes, getting married, or investing. .

“This presents a direct impediment, I believe, to economic growth,” she said. “I know we can’t secure our economic future or build a competitive advantage for Massachusetts if our workforce and our families are simply drowning in debt.”

The chamber is an ideal partner because its voice and clout have been critical in building support for other political initiatives, Healey said.

In the first year under Rooney, the chamber has been more vocal with its views on Beacon Hill and has been willing to break ranks with other business advocacy organizations on hot-button issues, such as transgender rights and male-female pay equity.

“Now is the time for us to think boldly about the economic foundation that we’re building here in this state for our future, and that means embracing new ideas about the needs of a modern workforce and workplace,” Healey said. “It’s more important than ever that we look to partner business and government if we want to seize that moment.”

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