SOUTH KINGSTOWN—This past Friday, the U.S. Senate agreed to stay a potential doubling of the student loan interest rate, which currently sits at 3.4 percent, for one year. Legislators and university officials across Rhode Island have fought for months through public awareness and speaking with state officials in order to stress the importance of keeping the interest rate the same, and the consequences of a doubling.
Stephanie Segal, President of the University of Rhode Island’s Student Senate, stated that she was relieved to see that state and federal legislators came together to prevent millions of students nationwide from paying more for higher education.
“I really was not sure how the vote would turn out, and us as a Student Senate, along with many other schools have worked so hard to try and make this happen,” said Segal. “It was great to see our hard work pay off.”
Through URI’s Student Senate, Segal has participated in numerous events and talks in order to apprise the University community of the problems facing higher education, and the added financial burden upon today’s youth which would occur if the interest rate had doubled. She also spoke to students and faculty prior to Senator Jack Reed’s visit to URI in April.
“The proposed increase is absolutely outrageous for students trying to afford college here,” said Segal in April. “I am a junior here and already have about $16,500 in federal subsidized Stafford loan debt, on top of another $60,000 in student loans, and it will only increase in the next year. Think about the interest on that, and I am not alone.”
“When you are talking about such a large sum of money, that 6.8 percent interest rate is nearing closer and closer to private bank loan rates, which colleges try to steer students away from taking,” she added. “Is it not the purpose of loans to make college affordable and to give families who could not afford to give their children a chance an opportunity to excel? These ever increasing costs are making the dream of college become more and more unlikely for many students.”
Lynne Derbyshire, Chair of the Communications Studies Department at URI, also spoke at Reed’s April vsit, and expressed exasperation that the decision to not double loan rates went to the eleventh hour.
"It has been just crazy," said Derbyshire. "To hold this up to the last possible second over ridiculous political wrangling is beyond belief. The reason that the cost of education in Rhode Island has increased can be very directly connected to the decline in state support."
"Rhode Island has essentially abandoned public higher education, and you can barely call URI a state school anymore," she added.
According to Reed’s office, the decision to not double the 3.4 percent student loan interest rate will assist 7.4 million college students across the country. If the Senate had allowed the rate to double, student borrowers would have paid approximately $5,000 more in interest over a 10-year payment plan. Rhode Island legislators praised the work of their colleagues in Washington on Friday after the 3.4 percent rate was passed.
“Thanks to this agreement, millions of students across the country can breathe easier, knowing the loans they need to help pay for college won’t suddenly double overnight,” said Reed. “These loans are an economic lifeline for nearly 40,000 Rhode Island students, and we need to ensure today’s students have an opportunity to earn a degree without mortgaging their future.”
“Making college more affordable is one of the best investments we can make in America's economic future,” he added. “It is important that we keep the doors of higher education open to all deserving students.”
“The average Rhode Island student is already burdened by more than $26,000 in debt,” said Congressman James Langevin. “Forcing an estimated 43,000 young people in our state to pay an average of $1,000 more by letting this rate double would have been unconscionable. I’m pleased that those who wanted to create a false choice by gutting health services for low-income families in exchange for keeping the rate low have relented and allowed us to reach a compromise.”
Segal and Derbyshire cautioned that more work needs to be done by multiple stakeholders, from students to President Barack Obama, in order that higher education can become more affordable to all who wish to partake in it.
"Higher education is so important in order to make our young adults more knowledgeable and prepare them to join the workforce, and a larger portion of the state budget needs to go towards that,” said Segal. “As a result, tuition costs would stay down and make college more affordable for families.”
“As a Senate, we have gone to the state house when the budget was being proposed and shared our point of view and the impact it makes on the students, even using personal stories,” she added. “We will continue to be proactive and fight for a more affordable college education.”
"If we don’t make it possible for students not from the upper-middle class to go to college, we are doing a disservice to the state and the country," said Derbyshire. "We neeed educated citizens in order to provide the concept of a middle class in the U.S. and, without making it possible, it is all over."
"People have this delusion that there is all this scholarship money out there, but I constantly have students telling me that they don’t know if they can be [at URI] next semester," she added. "In Rhode Island, when they increased tuition by 7 or 8 percent a few years back, some said that it is only a couple of hundred dollars, I have seen people drop out of school over that."