With a strong bipartisan voice in support, the United States Congress passed a bill Friday that stops student loan interest rates from doubling. More than 7 million low- and middle-income students and their families require Subsidized Stafford Loans distributed by the U.S. Department of Education to help pay for college. The loans currently hold a 3.4 percent interest rate, which if Congress did not vote by today, would have doubled to 6.8 percent by July 1, 2012.
President Obama did a two-day college campus tour in April 2012, visiting the University of North Carolina, the University of Colorado, and the University of Iowa. His message to students was the same: college education needs to be affordable and is crucial for the future of the country. He went as far as to get a crowd of 8,000 students, faculty, staff and community members at UNC to repeat the Twitter hashtag #dontdoublemyrate and contact members of Congress to build up the pressure.
The doubling of interest rates would have translated into an additional $1,000 debt for close to 7.4 million students across the country, and over 160,000 students in North Carolina alone.
The vote by Congress is one small step, although significant, in the continued effort to keep higher education affordable for millions of Americans.
The eleventh hour decision might have been to keep costs down and keep college affordable Or it could have been to avoid serious backlash from students and their families in a crucial election year. Whatever the reason, students on Subsidized Stafford Loans – one-third of U.S. college students – will be able to celebrate this weekend knowing they will continue paying a lower interest rate. But the question of college affordability has yet to be answered permanently. The work needs to continue to ensure student debt remains manageable and college remains affordable for years to come.