Senator calls on Congress to act on student loans
By Abby SpegmanMay 4, 2012
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen called on Congress to keep interest rates on student loans from doubling this summer during a visit to Keene State College Wednesday.
"Clearly this is a challenge we have to address because it's not getting better on its own," she said.
Congress is debating how to keep the interest rate on subsidized federal Stafford loans from rising from 3.4 to 6.8 percent at the end of June, when the law that set the rate at 3.4 percent expires.
The increase would add about $1,000 to the debt of more than 7.4 million students. (Loans taken out before the increase would not be affected.)
New Hampshire already has one the highest rates of students graduating with debt, at 74 percent, and the highest average debt burden for graduates, at $31,408 per student.
About 38,000 New Hampshire students have Stafford loans to help pay for their education. Combined, they would pay an additional $30.5 million.
Shaheen appeared with a panel to discuss college affordability.
"I can't tell you how many hours of my life go into figuring out how we're going to make the August payment, the December payment," said Keith C. Couch, who has a daughter at Keene State and a son at Boston College.
Between the two of them, Couch said, his bill came to $90,000 this year. Loans, he said, help "bridge the gap."
There are more grants and scholarships available to lower-income families. It's middle-income families making between $60,000 and $150,000 a year that are having to borrow more and more, said Patricia A. Blodgett, the college's director of financial aid.
Shaheen, a Democrat, said members of Congress in both parties and both chambers agree they have to act but disagree on how to cover the $6 billion cost. Rep. Charles F. Bass, a Republican, has also called on Congress to act before the rate increases.
Shaheen said after this debate, lawmakers have to find other ways to make college more affordable.
At Keene State, Blodgett said, 41 percent of incoming students next semester are first-generation college students and their families are asking for more and more aid.
Said Shaheen: "As we look at the numbers, we still have more work to do."