On July 1, the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Without congressional help, students borrowing the maximum $23,000 in subsidized loans are poised to pay an extra $5,000 per year over a 10-year repayment period. That is $20,000 more for four years of college. Congress has eliminated subsidized loans for graduate students, as well as most discounts. They also cut $8 billion out of the Pell Grant program for low-income students and reduced the income threshold for eligibility for a full Pell Grant. The average student loan debt for a college student in 2010 was $25,250, up five percent from the previous year. Also, 68 percent of high school graduates choose to pursue a college degree, with close to two-thirds of those students coming out of college in debt. Despite these rises in tuition, it is also important to note that professor salaries have essentially remained stagnant for the better part of the last five years. Additionally, unpaid student debt set a landmark record at the end of 2011, hitting $1 trillion and surpassing total credit card debt for the first time ever.
While these figures should alarm you, especially given that matters will only get worse if we allow the interest rate on student loans to double in July, the goal of this letter is not to cause anger or frustration. Rather, my hope is to show that there is something that we as a college community can do about it, as we are in no way a small or helpless group, with about 20 million graduate and undergraduate students nationwide.
Although I am a student at James Madison University, this letter is being published across close to a dozen campuses around Virginia in hopes of attracting as much student attention as possible, because the unfortunate truth is that our attention has been lacking in recent years. Congress has continuously prioritized tax cuts and military spending for many years while we as students and members of the middle class have been taking the brunt of the recent budget cuts. In fact, since the beginning of the 1980s, a college education has become four times as expensive, even when accounting for inflation.
Despite Congress’ apparent lack of concern for the ever-rising cost of attending college, it would be misguided to point the finger directly at our representatives, after all this is the way that American politics work. If we don’t voice our concerns and pose a credible threat to our representatives’ reelection hopes, our interests will be left by the wayside. For this reason, we can no longer afford to be complacent; if we do not act on our own behalf then we cannot expect anything to improve. In fact, we can expect things to continue to get worse.
In order to combat this, I have created a Facebook group that contains information on this topic and ways that we can all make a difference. Simply search for “College Students United: 20 million strong.” There you will find information to make it easy to help our cause- Email or call your congressmen, sign the online petition, host a voter registration drive on your campus and join me for a rally at our nation’s capitol in June.
If we do not act soon to stop interest rates on student loans from increasing this July, it will only be another nail in the coffin. Together, our 20 million voices are stronger than even the most powerful interest groups in Washington. So let us be heard, because together we truly can affect change, and I have faith that we will prevail.
Grady Hart is a junior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.