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On senate floor, Shaheen affirms support for bipartisan compromise to keep student loan rates low

(Washington, D.C.) – Reaffirming her commitment to making college affordable for New Hampshire students and families, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to voice her support for a bipartisan compromise to keep student loan interest rates low. In her remarks, Shaheen also announced her support for the Reed-Warren Amendment to lower the cap on the student loan interest rates.

As of July 1, interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%. In the absence of Congressional action, these 6.8% interest rates stand as current law. Shaheen has long worked to increase college affordability and has twice voted in the Senate to extend the 3.4% rate to protect our nation’s students.

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, we all know that on July 1, interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%.   I have twice voted to extend the 3.4 percent rates to protect our nation’s students, and unfortunately, both times, these extensions were defeated.  Without Congressional action, the 6.8% interest rates stand as current law. 

Today I will vote for the bipartisan compromise that will keep student loan interest rates low this year.  I thank my colleagues who have spent hours coming to an agreement that could pass this body.

While the compromise is not perfect, our undergrads and graduate students will be able to go to college this fall with peace of mind, knowing that the interest rates are well below those they would otherwise face.  In fact, this compromise will save $30 billion in interest debt to students over the next four years.  Undergraduates borrowing this year will save $2000 over the course of their studies under the compromise plan, and graduates could save between $4,000- $9,000.

Today I will also vote for the Reed-Warren Amendment to lower the cap on the interest rates, and I also support the Murray Amendment to allocate any resulting savings to shore up Pell grants—funding for the students who need it most.

And while today’s vote is important to keep student rates low for this year’s students, I want to be very clear that I do not consider this compromise to be a permanent fix.

Included in the bill is the requirement for a study to be conducted by the nonpartisan and independent Government Accountability Office, which will analyze the cost of running the student loan program.  Once we have the results of that study, we must use the information to determine what course of action is best for our students.

One thing is very clear: any solution should not come at the expense of our students.  Affordable higher education is one of the best economic investments our country can make.   It is essential to growing our nation’s economy, creating jobs and protecting the middle class.  Our businesses need educated workers to compete in the new global knowledge-based economy.

In the immigration bill this Senate recently passed, and which I voted for, we increased the number of highly skilled workers businesses could bring in, because there is a shortage currently in this country. I supported that, but that’s a crutch. We should be educating American students for these jobs.

In my state of New Hampshire, the student loan debate is an important one.   Last year, a survey found our state had the highest average student college debt in the nation at $31,408 per student.  Nearly three quarters of our students have some amount of student loan debt, the second highest percentage of students with debt in the country. We must protect our students.  We cannot price middle-class families out of a college education.

Studies show that adults with degrees from two-year and four-year colleges have far higher family incomes than adults who have a high school degree.  In fact, according to a study from Georgetown University, people with bachelor’s degrees earn about $1 million more over their lifetimes than those without one.  We need to get rid of any barrier that stops any student who wants to pursue a degree.

Recently, I met Anne from Manchester, who was a recipient of student loans.   She was able to go to school and get a degree because of Pell Grants.  Anne will quickly tell you that without aid, she would’ve never even thought about pursuing a college degree.   She is now working in a professional capacity and contributing to her community in so many ways.   But Anne is now worried that her daughter, a single mother who works part time, has limited options to pursue her own dream job because of the high cost of education that is required for her degree.  She told me that “these kids are our future, we cannot limit them in this way; student loans should not be an obstacle that is insurmountable.”  She’s right, and we can’t. We need to make it easier and more affordable for Americans to go to college, not harder and more expensive.

I also heard from Patricia, a 45 year old single woman with three children under 18 years of age.  She is currently a student at Granite State College and relied on loans to get her degree. For the past ten years, she and her family have been in and out of homeless shelters.   She grew up as the youngest of nine children in a family where the option of college was never even considered or discussed. 

Patricia has an incredibly tight family budget, and student loans are critical to her getting a degree and ultimately, being able to provide for her family. Sadly, any increase in student loan interest rates could limit Patricia’s ability to continue her education.

The bottom line is clear: we have to make college more affordable.   It is essential for our students and for our economic prosperity as a country, and I hope that moving forward we all can work together towards achieving this goal. It’s too important to our country’s future.