As college tuition steadily increases by an average of about 8 percent each year, more and more students and their families rely on student loans to help pay the escalating costs of obtaining a college degree. One in three college students takes out federal subsidized Stafford Loans when scholarships, grants and part-time jobs just aren’t enough to fund higher education.
Interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans are set to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, unless Congress acts. Today, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic push to keep the rates at their current level—but the young people whose families and futures will be directly impacted by a rate hike are making sure their voices are heard on this critical issue.
Early this morning, as the amount of student loan debt in this country crossed the $1 trillion threshold, students and young advocates took to the offices of Congress to tell elected leaders about the importance of keeping higher education affordable for all.
The Campaign for Young America—a coalition effort organized by the Young Invincibles involving student groups, progressive organizations and labor—convened current college students and recent graduates on Capitol Hill to lobby senators ahead of the vote. The group spent the past two months on a bus tour collecting the stories of young people in communities and campuses across 21 states. The dozens of young people participating in today’s lobby effort set out to make the experiences and concerns of their generation heard.
Devon Yates, a kinesthesiology major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, felt his meeting with staff of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) would help the lawmaker “understand where students are coming from.” He shared his story as a scholarship student who needs federal loans to be able to complete another year at school and finish his degree. He said he aspires to complete a graduate degree as well and his life at school is riding on this congressional decision.
At a press conference held with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Clarisse McCants spoke of being the first person in her family to attend college and the importance of higher education as a means to escape the cycle of poverty that surrounded her while growing up in north Philadelphia.
To afford her education at Howard University, where she is currently a junior studying political science, Clarisse said she works a variety of part-time jobs and is also a recipient of a federal Pell Grant. But she still needed to take out thousands in Stafford Loans to afford her education.
With more than 7 million college students in the same boat as Yates and McCants, the doubling of federal student loan interest rates would hurt not just young people, but the overall economy as well. The unemployment rate for workers younger than 25 is still double the national average, and a college degree is one of the factors that helps boost job prospects. An educated workforce is essential to economic prosperity for the country as a whole.
As McCants said in her remarks today, this country will move forward only when “education is seen as a right, not a privilege.”
(Photo, L to R: Sen. Tom Harkin, Clarisse McCants, Sens. Jack Reed [at podium] and Sherrod Brown stand with a group of college students and recent graduates who lobbied Congress to keep student loan interest rates from doubling.)