By Alex Distefano
If you’re in college, enjoy your worry-free summer vacation . . . while it lasts. When the fall semester begins in a few weeks, it will be more than exams and term papers stressing you out.
Earlier this month, due to inaction by the Congress, the interest rate for federal Stafford student loans increased—nearly doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. But there may be a chance of salvaging a problem affecting Inland Empire students, as well as those attending colleges and universities across the country. At press time, Congress was scheduled to vote on a measure this week that would retroactively set interest rates back to 3.4 percent for at least another year. This would buy time for Democrats and Republicans to hammer out debates and come up with a long-term solution to keeping education within the financial reach of many. But if Congress doesn’t act soon, it is estimated that the average college student will need to pay $2,600 more for their loan this fall, according to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.
Even though both political parties say a solution is needed, so far no agreement has been made.
The Weekly spoke with 22-year-old Jacob Benveniste of Redlands, who just completed his junior year at Swarthmore, a private liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia. Benveniste says he thinks it is unfortunate that far too many middle-class families are at the point where a higher education is becoming unaffordable.
“There [are] approximately 7 million students that are affected by this rate increase, including myself,” Benveniste says. “If students face higher loan rates, that’s money that they’re spending on interest—and not on housing, a reliable car, dinner with family or saving for a down payment on a home.”
Since students’ abilities to buy and spend would be affected across the board, this has the potential to impact the broader economy.
“Every imaginable purchase that young adults save for and spend on would be delayed,” Benveniste adds.
According to CBS News, both political parties have publicly criticized one another over this issue.
“It’s not fair for Democrats who run Washington to stand in students’ way,” U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) told the media outlet. “The Republican proposals are attractive in the short term but in the long term are extremely expensive,” argued Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) in recent published media reports.
U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside)—a former teacher—has gotten into the mix, posting a “What’s Your Opinion” message on Facebook, asking constituents and others to rate what they feel is a top priority issue. On the list is “Fix Student Loan Interest Rates” followed by “Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform” and “Stop Sequestration.” Back in May, Takano told progressive blog Daily Kos, “Every American deserves the chance to go to college. But, the high cost of student loans means that far too many aspiring young people can no longer afford an education after high school . . . Tell Congress that Inland Empire students deserve fair loans. We owe it to the future of our country.”
As Republicans and Democrats continue to play political hardball over the issue—with no compromise yet in sight— Benveniste sees the GOP standing in the way, and urges people to take some kind of action. Some politicos have taken action, targeting members of Congress—such U.S. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga)—they feel are standing in the way of lowering interest rates. According to The Press-Enterprise, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month paid for an ad in Cal State San Bernardino’s student newspaper asking, “Why does Congressman Gary Miller want you to pay more for college?”
“People should do is contact their local members of Congress who are stalling on a fix. In particular, Congressman Gary Miller and his fellow Republicans need to hear from students and their families,” he says. “If they hear from enough constituents, we hope that they will have the motivation to compromise to keep loan rates low. People need to let their members of Congress know that this is not acceptable. If things are going to change, we need to start by not making this problem worse than it is. Gary Miller and Republicans in Congress are pushing us away from a solution.”
Keeping interest rates low—and thus affordable—should be a priority for politicians, political parties aside. But Benveniste says he is unsure of how things will play out. But he does offer advice to returning and new college students: “working hard” and living “frugally.”
“College is an important investment in your future, and I hope that the Republicans’ efforts to make it more expensive don’t discourage bright young people from getting the education they’ll need to be competitive in the workplace.”