U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made an appeal to lawmakers around the country to leave the politics out of the education debate if they hope to make any strides in fixing the problems afflicting American's academic system. Sometimes its difficult to recall how dire the situation facing both the secondary education and higher education system is, especially when giving an address to a group of fresh-faced new college graduates, many of them first in their families to attain this honor. But that doesn't mean that legislators should forget that these kinds of achievements wouldn't be possible without government financial support like Stafford Loans and Pell Grants, especially considering that, in the past 17 years, college tuition had gone up at five times the rate of the median household income.
Carrying substantial student loan debt is the price two-thirds of the students pay in order to increase their chance of success in life by obtaining a college degree. The median size of the debt is $26,000, and due to the recent economic instability, even those with a degree are facing the most anemic job market in decades.
To make matters worse, a policy change is coming at the end of this month that will make getting out of debt more expensive for more than 7 million young Americans next year: Without congressional action, the interest rate on Stafford loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, starting July 1.
Based on the average loan amount, doubling the Stafford loan interest rate will add more than $1,000 in total costs for borrowers. For students who borrow heavily to go to college, it could cost even more. Only Congress can keep these interest rates from doubling. And yet Congress has so far failed to deliver.
Although some Republicans have indicated a willingness to work with the Obama administration to tackle the issue, Duncan said that more politicians from both sides of the aisle need to bridge the party divide and come up with a solution to help college students. The responsibility for finding a solution falls equally on all lawmakers, regardless of partisan affiliation, and all must contribute to make sure that the debt burden on students is lessened not worsened at this crucial time.
Now, America can take another simple step forward and keep the interest rate on Stafford loans at 3.4 percent — but only if Congress does its job and comes together around a fair and responsible way to pay for it.
In 2007, a Democratic-controlled Congress and a Republican president came together to lower interest rates on these loans because it was the right thing to do. That Congress did not put politics ahead of students and neither should today's. Let's do the right thing for America's students — and for our nation's economy.