College aid tangled in politics

Student loan interest rates will double if Congress doesn’t act.

Candice Wheeler

When George W. Bush’s administration lowered the interest rate on the Stafford subsidized loan from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent back in 2007, it shined a light on college affordability. Now, five years later, the deal is expiring, and it’s up to the 7 million students who are affected by the increase to stop the rate from doubling July 1.

Those in office who foresaw this coming should have eased the backlash with a backup payment plan. Now politicians are scrambling and making rash decisions on how to fund yet another extension.

An extra $1,000 in interest per student is something the 200,000 plus Minnesota students expected to take out Stafford loans this year can’t handle. Increasing the rate steers away from the loan’s intended value. These loans cater directly to low-income students and are awarded based on financial need.

Both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney support keeping the rate low, but in the House of Representatives, it’s all blue and red. Last week, the House approved a bill to delay the scheduled increase another year. House Republicans are looking to withdraw funding from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund — which funds cancer screenings and other medical procedures — to pay for the $6 million keeping the interest low. House Democrats instead wish to use new tax revenue to settle the cost.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., opposes withdrawing the measure, stating no American should have to choose between their health and education. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is at least attempting a solution. On Monday, he announced the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, which provides college hopefuls with a universal financial aid award letter allowing them to compare financial aid packages between schools before committing.

Extending low interest rates provides only a temporary relief, and any college student knows the problems of procrastination. Congress should go to the root of the problem and work on finding ways to lower tuition.