We should be supporting Virginia students, not burying them under massive loans.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, 20-year-old Rida Khan always thought about a career where she could help others. What started as an affinity for working with people and an interest in current events later bloomed into a passion for political science. Now, Rida’s a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, double-majoring in political science and business, and leading her peers in a politically active club on campus.

On top of this, she’s working a paid internship to offset the cost of her tuition.

“I’ve only taken out government loans so far, subsidized and unsubsidized, and I’m already $16,000 in debt.”

Stories like this are all too common — not only for Virginia students, but students nationwide. Upon graduating high school, students accepted into a four-year university are granted an immense opportunity for success and a fulfilling education. The reality of making such a decision, though, is more stressful than it is enjoyable for students and their families when they go to crunch the numbers. The average cost of college tuition at a public university is simply too high for students to afford on their own without taking out massive loans that will burden them in college — feeling pressured by the financial tension — and for many years that follow it once the monthly payment requirements kick in. The debt that follows leaves many graduates apprehensive about applying to graduate school before they have a steady income and are able to make undergraduate payments. Rida would love to get her MBA, but she knows it’s not financially feasible straight out of college.

Being a student is a full-time job. Luckily, my internship at a healthcare company is beneficial to my future, but I have friends working minimum-wage jobs that don’t contribute anything to their future careers purely to offset the cost of tuition.

As someone who’s been a public servant for years, Ralph understands the financial hurdles facing college-aged students today. His plan to improve Virginia’s higher education system addresses this financial burden, and targets the unfair uptick in tuition students see after each subsequent semester. With his Four-Year Promise, Ralph will ensure level tuition for returning, in-state, full-time students for a four-year term. In return, the commonwealth will provide increased direct cost (instructional) funding to our public universities. For students like Rida, it would be tremendously helpful to know tuition expenses will remain constant.

It would help to have more resources. Luckily I’m equipped because I’m a business major, but there are plenty of students who don’t have the financial education and they’re graduating without any financial management skills. Having a resource like that to manage a gigantic amount of debt is important and currently lacking.

Additionally, Ralph’s higher education plan aims to remedy student financial stress by increasing transparency. This will be done by creating a one-stop-shop website to post information related to for-profit colleges so prospective students and families can get the facts. The website will include consumer complaints, annual certification renewals and accreditation reports, loan default rates, graduation rates, and average wages of graduates for select years post graduations. Additionally, new guidelines will be set to make sure tuition dollars at for-profits will directly support students.

Some level of control would be appreciated. The government does play a part, and universities and how they spend their money is a huge conversation.

This debt doesn’t go away by graduation. Too often, students are saddled with a lifetime of payments that hinder the choices they make in the future — like affording a mortgage or buying a car on top of monthly college-loan payments. Ralph knows this type of financial pressure isn’t right. Our students should have the freedom to learn, explore new subjects, grow — and enjoy being young — without the weight of their finances on their chests. As governor, Ralph will do all he can to give every student access to the opportunities they deserve.