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(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke today on the Senate floor urging Congress to find a bipartisan solution to avoid an increase in student loan costs. New Hampshire already has the highest average student debt in the nation at $31,408 per student. That could increase by a combined total of $30.5 million if Congress does not stop interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans from increasing from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1.

Shaheen met with students at Keene State College and Plymouth State University last week to discuss this issue and hear how an increase in loan costs could affect them.

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

Mr. President, our workforce must have the skills to compete in a global economy.  That means making sure that college is affordable.

The reality is that students today face ever growing tuition rates and student loans are a critical bridge for them to cover these costs. 

But, unless we act, over 7 million students – 38,000 in my state alone-- who rely on subsidized Stafford student loans will see an increase in their student debt when they graduate. 

This is a particular problem for students in New Hampshire.  Our state has the highest average student debt in the nation at just over $31,000 per student.   Seventy-four percent of our college students are in debt, the second largest group in the country.  Students of all ages in my state and states across the country need relief.

Doubling the interest rate is the exact opposite of the policies we should be promoting – policies that give Americans every opportunity to succeed.  We need to encourage our students to go on to higher education, to advanced degree programs and to professional schools.   Their future employment and our future economy both depend on it.

Last week, I visited Keene State College and Plymouth State College.  Everyone I spoke with had stories about the escalating the cost of college and concern for rising student loan interest rates.  Over the past 24 hours, I’ve heard from hundreds more constituents who are anxious about this matter.

I’ve heard from these students and their families, and they are concerned.  To be clear, this legislation would impact current and future students who will receive subsidized Stafford loans starting July 1.   The last thing anyone needs in this economic climate is a reason not to pursue their undergraduate or graduate studies.

For example, Meghan Jordan of Amherst is a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire.  She told the Union Leader Newspaper that student loan debt has become a constant concern for her.  Meghan says that her parents would do just about anything to pay for her college education in full, but with two brothers also attending college, the finances are simply not available.  Meghan views the prospect of interest rates doubling as an attack on all other college students trying to make a better future for themselves.  She said it feels like it is a punishment for trying to obtain a college degree.

Keith Couch has a daughter at Keene State College and a son at Boston College and between the two kids his annual tuition bill comes to $90,000.  He told me that he spends hours trying to figure out how his family will make college payments each month.   Loans, he said, help “bridge the gap.” 

One constituent, Erin, posted on my Facebook wall that her husband recently completed medical assistant courses at Hesser College in Manchester.   He is due to start paying the student loan next month, but he hasn’t been able to find a job in his chosen field.  Erin said family finances are tight and if the interest rate were to double on the loans they have, there’s no way they would be able to pay them back.

The stories that I have heard in New Hampshire are similar to others across the country.   Higher education is essential for economic opportunity and personal growth, as well as the prosperity of our country.  Most importantly, the prospect of higher debt levels affects whether people choose to enter college to begin with. In this rapidly changing, highly competitive, global economy, we should be doing everything we can to make college more accessible to Americans, not less. That’s important for all of us.

However, high debt burdens have serious consequences for individuals, families and the economy. Student loan debt affects where graduates live, the kinds of careers they pursue, whether they try to start a new business, when they start a family or purchase a home and when they can start to save for retirement. 

Our students deserve better.  We need to get rid of any obstacles that keep our students from getting the education they need to succeed, not putting more in their way.  I urge my colleagues to come together to stop an increase in student loan interest rates.