Nary a dissenting opinion was heard today when U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro convened a round-table discussion on the crisis in student loan interest rates. Everyone – the Congresswoman, Mayor Daniel Drew, State Representatives Matt Lesser and Mary Mushinsky, four college students, numerous parents and college administrators – agreed that the lingering effects of the recession and the constantly rising costs of tuition can only be exacerbated by the potential increase in Federal student loan interest rates from 3.4% to 6.8%.
|Mayor Dan Drew, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, CT State Rep. Lesser|
Seated in the Wadsworth Room of deKoven House, the Congresswoman from the Third District explained, with Congress adjourning next week, only a few days remain in which to act on Representative Joe Courtney’s amendment, which would stabilize interest rates for another two years.
While Connecticut’s delegation can be counted on to vote to control loan rates, students, parents, faculty and administrators need to urge their colleagues in other states to impress their representatives of the importance of this legislation.
Even as the costs of tuition have increased nearly 400 per cent over the last thirty years, middle class families have been pinched by economic conditions to fund their children’s educations. As Professor Brian Stewart of Wesleyan explained, the doubling of interest from 3.4% to 6.8% will mean that unpaid student debt will actually double over a ten year period; a student going on to graduate school could be burdened with debt equivalent to a mortgage.
When the interest rate goes up on July 1, seven million students will be affected, 73,000 of them in Connecticut. Currently, the average four-year college graduate leaves with $26,000 in debt.
There was consensus among the adults on the value of a college education: Rep. DeLauro described how her parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, worked hard to send her and her siblings through college. Current data suggests that a college graduate will earn $22,000 more per year than a high school graduate -- or about one million dollars in a lifetime. Four out of five jobs lost in the recent recession belonged to non-college graduates.
But as students who are now faced with perhaps one thousand dollars more per year in loan interest look to their future, there is some doubt: the high cost of tuition and the uncertainty of a job upon graduation combine to raise stress levels for all concerned.
As Alicia Waldner, a recent Middletown High graduate stated, she doesn't want her college education to deplete her parents’ resources – in fact, she wants her degree so she can help them, not so she can be a burden. Adrienne Maslin, Dean of Student Affairs at Middlesex Community College, offered her perspective on what increasing costs in interest will mean to the average community college student: “A thousand dollars can mean the difference between staying in school and having to take a semester off to pay for an auto repair.”
Further, Rep. DeLauro pointed out, the Ryan budget would cut $100 billion over ten years from Pell Grant funding, the greatest source of student loans. Rep. DeLauro contrasted how the G.I. Bill of the 40s and 50s supported both education and home-buying with the shortsightedness of Congress today in making education prohibitively expensive for the middle and lower classes. “The G.I. Bill was genius,” she said.
She went on, “Congress should be working to make college more available and affordable to students, not cutting programs that help them obtain an education. Every American should have the opportunity to get an education and make a better life. Without access to college there is no middle class and the compact between generations is broken. If you work hard, it pays off and you do better than your parents; that is the deal in America. Congress needs to act this week to ensure millions of Americans still have a chance at that reality by keeping student interest rates low.”
Congress’s current approach, Mayor Drew suggested, could make all the difference in the United States’ role in the world economy. Where once we led the world in college graduation rates, we are now seeing declines which can only be a detriment to our economy. “We will lose our competitive edge in the world economy if we don’t support education for the middle class,” he stated.
As Christine O’Grady, mother of three and herself a graduate student, said in describing the $220,000 cost of sending one child to a private college, “I’m a little discouraged.”