How Elizabeth Warren Became an Advocate for Student Loan Reform

06/16/2015 02:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

Elizabeth Warren’s name has become synonymous with the fight for student loan reform. Since joining the Senate in 2012, Warren has been extremely vocal on issues surrounding college affordability and Wall Street reform. Her name is in the news every week for opinions or actions she's taken in the Senate, but what has led Warren to the prominent positions she now enjoys on the national stage?

Before becoming a senator, Warren held several political advisory positions and was influential in the world of academia. She taught as a law professor as Harvard for over 20 years, teaching at the University of Houston Law Center and University of Pennsylvania Law School as well. Warren has received numerous awards for her teaching, including the Sacks-Freund Award for excellence in teaching while at Harvard. She specialized in commercial and bankruptcy law.

Warren first entered politics during the Clinton administration in 1995 while serving on the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. According to the New Yorker, Warren “found the work thrilling and the results maddening”.

In 2003, her book, “The Two Income Trap”, which she wrote with her daughter, came out. The book, focused on the recent shift to families typically having two incomes instead of one, has made families less financially secure and more vulnerable to bankruptcy. She traveled around the country and made TV appearances to promote the book. This broadened her audience and perhaps changed her perspective on how to best affect change. Warren wrote, “Year in and year out, I’d been fighting as hard as I could. But by spending a few minutes talking to that family on Dr. Phil’s show—and to about six million other people who were looking on—I might have done more good than in an entire year as a professor.”

Just before the financial crisis in 2008, Warren published an article in which she proposed the creation of a financial product safety commission to protect consumers. This idea was realized in just a few years. The Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010 created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Warren became the de facto leader of until Obama appointed Richard Cordray as head of the bureau in 2011.

Beginning in 2008, Warren also served as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that was created to monitor the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) established to bailout the banks.

Clearly, even before beginning her senate career, Warren had no shortage of experience working on consumer financial protection and bankruptcy. She credits her interest in these topics to her own childhood. As the bio on her website explains, “Elizabeth learned first-hand about the economic pressures facing working families, growing up in a family she says was ‘on the ragged edge of the middle class.’” When she was young, her father has a heart attack and lost his job. The family lost their car, and her mother had to go to work to keep the family afloat. “My daddy and I were both afraid of being poor, really poor. His response was never to talk about money or what might happen if it ran out—never ever ever. My response was to study contracts, finance, and, most of all, economic failure, to learn everything I could.”

Attaining the education that allowed Warren to ‘learn everything she could’ about finance and law was not an easy feat for her. In her recent commencement speech for Bunker Hill Community College, Warren said, “I borrowed money. I married young. I dropped out of school. I went back and finally I got lucky”.

The battle for college affordability and student loan reform became new issues for Warren to tackle after she joined the Senate in 2013. The combination of her personal experiences struggling and facing financial hardship as well as her experience waging a successful fight for consumer finance protection paved the way for Warren to focus her efforts the problems plaguing higher education.

And, it doesn’t look like she will be stopping any time soon.

To learn more about what private sector options are available to help graduates with student debt save, visit Credible.