MCC students take part in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s college affordability tour

Day 2 of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's college affordability "listening tour" included stops at public high schools in Kansas City and Belton.
Day 2 of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s college affordability “listening tour” included stops at public high schools in Kansas City and Belton.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill spent time with Metropolitan Community College students and administrators March 22 as part of a weeklong, statewide college affordability listening tour.

McCaskill held roundtable discussions with students and area educators at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and Belton High School.

Sen. Claire McCaskill
Among other topics, Sen. Claire McCaskill discussed how colleges need to be more accountable to the public.

At Lincoln Prep, MCC-Penn Valley  student Chebet Buckner talked about her experience. She is taking advantage of the Early College program, a partnership of Kansas City Public Schools and MCC. High school students who meet certain requirements get the opportunity to earn an associate degree while still in high school.

Buckner plans to graduate in May 2017 and wants to transfer to a four-year East Coast university.

MCC-Penn Valley student Chebet Buckner
MCC-Penn Valley student Chebet Buckner

She said she was lucky that her parents taught her financial literacy and they saved to make college affordable. But she’s worried about so many of her friends who are working full time just to pay for college.

McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said she wants to work on policy that gives students more knowledge about loans and interest rates and how college debt can impact their future.

The senator also said she supports legislation that would allow students to refinance college debt at lower interest rates, wants to expanded federal grants for lower-income college students and opposes higher tuition costs for children of undocumented immigrants.

But the proposal for tuition-free public colleges and universities is unrealistic, she said. “Let’s give everyone a free car. Let’s buy a home for everyone,” she said. “It’s very difficult to do that and afford it.”

Katie Walker, also an MCC-Penn Valley student, will graduate this semester. She hopes to attend  Sarah Lawrence College in New York and law school after that.

She said all of her friends work to afford school. She said she understands working a little, but full-time jobs are tough for students to handle on top of full-time classwork.

Sen. Claire McCaskill
MCC-Penn Valley student Katie Walker with Vice Chancellor Kathrine Swanson

Dr. Kathrine Swanson, MCC’s vice chancellor of student success and engagement, spoke at Lincoln Prep about about reaching first-generation college students, who may not have the support to navigate the financial aid system and may end up not graduating. She wants to make it easy for those students and all students to succeed.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas City Public Schools also joined the discussion at Lincoln Prep.

One of the participants at McCaskill’s stop at Belton High School was Annalise Padgett, an MCC-Longview student who will graduate this May. She is earning an associate of arts in communications with a focus on advocacy and social policy. After she graduates, she will be moving to Chicago to complete her undergraduate degree at Loyola University. She would like to eventually work as a liaison between nonprofit organizations and communities in need of support.

MCC-Longview student Annalise Padgett
MCC-Longview student Annalise Padgett

“I believe that access is available, but there are not enough ‘connectors’ to these tools and they are needed in order for communities to thrive,” Padgett says. “I desire to be a connector. To network on behalf of others’ needs and to see a difference come within that sphere.”

She talked about the quality education she received at MCC for free through scholarships. She works with students as a peer mentor and shares scholarship opportunities with them. She says she thinks they should be easier to access, but money is available. Still, she told the senator that college overall should be more affordable.

The Harrisonville and Belton school districts as well as the University of Central Missouri also participated in the 90 minute discussion.

During both of her Kansas City area appearances, McCaskill touched on topics including how colleges can become more accountable to the public, how to make tuition more transparent to students, better ways to reach students when discussing money and loans, and tactics used by some for-profit schools.