Column - Students should raise support for lower interest rates
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 08:04
In what seems to be an attempt to stir a key voting pool, President Obama has set out on a two-day tour of American universities. His message: a call to Congress to renew a low-interest student loan program before it expires July 1.
Without this program, interest rates on a popular federal loan for middle and low income undergraduates will double before the start of the 2012 fall semester.
This program is the key to helping a large portion of college graduates keep their student loans at an affordable level and should be embraced by everyone. If extended, the program will likely do the same for many current West Virginia University students when the time comes to repay their student loans.
Nearly three-fourths of WVU students have taken on some form of loan to fund their education and will almost certainly be impacted by this decision.
Obama’s tour comes at a time when the amount of student loan debt carried by Americans has surpassed that of their credit card debt.
Obama explained to an enthusiastic crowd at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he was well acquainted with the burden of education debt. Many students were astonished when the President told them that he had only paid off his student loan debt eight years ago.
Speaking of the student loan debt that he and First Lady Michelle Obama shared, the president told the crowd, "I didn’t just read about this. I didn’t just get some talking points about this. I didn’t get a policy briefing on this … We didn’t come from wealthy families. When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together."
Obama and his wife aren’t the only graduates with a "mountain of debt." According to the Project on Student Debt, an organization that tracks national student loan statistics, U.S. college seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student loans with them.
In his weekly address issued Saturday, Obama blamed his Republican opponents for the difficulties in getting such provisions enacted.
"Instead, over the past few years, Republicans in Congress have voted against new ways to make college more affordable for middle-class families and voted for huge new tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires – tax cuts that would have to be paid for by cutting things like education and job-training programs that give students new opportunities to work and succeed," Obama said.
However, with the unemployment rate hovering around 8.2 percent, even Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney supports the proposal.
"Particularly with the number of college grads that can’t find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans," Romney said on a recent campaign stop.
Although Romney didn’t comment on how long the extension should last, he referenced the "extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market" as his motivation for supporting the extension.
Although Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on financial matters, this is one issue that public college students can be united on. Many lawmakers forget how important it is to make higher education affordable for lower and middle class citizens.
The fact that $85 billion of student loan debt in the United States is considered "past due" should be enough proof for any decision maker that now is not the time to increase that burden. Not to mention student loan debt is on the rise at a time when other debt is flat or even declining.
During his speech at UNC, Obama urged students to use social media to pressure law makers to keep student loan interest rates low.
Any student who funds their own education should have a great deal of interest in this matter and must let it be known that they support this proposal.
Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have made it easier than ever to lay the heat on key decision-makers who resist programs of this nature.
Students should use these sites to voice their support for lower student loan interest rates to their local and federal lawmakers.
No one cares more about a student’s financial well-being more than the students themselves. A collective online effort made by students to sway key political figures could mean the difference of thousands of dollars when paying down your debt.