OREGON: Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., thought he was going to Hillsboro’s Century High School to talk to students on Friday, Oct. 18 about the recent government shutdown and the political gridlock currently plaguing Washington, D.C.
But that’s not really what the students wanted to talk about.
Though there were some questions about the shutdown, most of the Century juniors and seniors asked Wyden whether they’d be paying back student loans for the rest of their lives after college, or about whether the federal government could invest more in K-12 programs for higher-achieving students. After all, it was a group of about 115 kids from three Advanced Placement classes.
“There was less focus on the Washington D.C. scene and the bickering that older people might have focused on,” Wyden said after the hour-long question-and-answer session.
When one student did ask why the nation has gotten so politically fractured, Wyden blamed it on the ideological nature of today’s cable news channels.
“We have television that really is not about the who, what, when, where and why,” he said, adding that special interests tend to fund the people with the most extreme views, which deepens the divide.
For the most part, though, the students asked about the issues. Century senior Alexis Nguyen asked Wyden to be specific when he said he would seek a bipartisan deal to reform Medicare and the tax code as part of the Senate’s newly formed budget conference.
Wyden told the students that Medicare might not be something young people think about, but reforming it is crucial for the future of the issues they do care about, such as education and the environment.
“If we don’t figure Medicare out, guys, there’s not going to be any money” for those things, Wyden said.
After the session, Nguyen said she appreciated the opportunity to ask Wyden a question.
“I was able to connect to someone who works at a much higher level in the community than anyone I know,” she said.
A few students asked Wyden why college is so expensive and told him they worried about taking on large student loans. Wyden said the federal government needs to focus more on the value of higher education rather than simply access, and he plugged a bill he was working on that would let families learn more about the success rates of graduates from colleges and universities.
“There really aren’t very many marketplace forces that hold the cost down,” Wyden said, adding that expensive colleges that graduate students to low-paying jobs would have to lower their prices if families could see that data.
It was a timely topic for students preparing to graduate in June and enroll in college.
“My favorite part was learning about how they’re working to change college and try to reduce prices,” said Jeilene Hambly, a senior at Century.
The students also asked about social issues. One wondered about Wyden’s stance on gay marriage. “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one,” Wyden said, to the students’ visible approval. Another wondered whether marijuana should be legal. Wyden said he wasn’t yet committed to either side of that issue, though he said it should be legal for Oregon farmers to grow industrial hemp, which is found in legal products on Oregon shelves.