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Column: N.H. College Students Can’t Afford a Doubling of Loan Rates

Between soaring tuition payments and mounting student debt, middle class families all across New Hampshire are having a tough time putting their kids through college. And if Congress fails to act this week, it’s going to get even harder.

On July 1, the fixed interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans is scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. If Congress doesn’t step in, thousands of Granite State students who rely on these loans will be forced to pay an average of $1,000 extra every year.

We can’t let that happen. At a time when a college education has never been more important — or expensive — the last thing Congress should do is put higher education even further out of reach for our young people.

Hard-working families across the country are already saddled with unprecedented levels of student loan debt. At more than $1 trillion, total student loan debt nationwide now tops credit card debt.

Here in New Hampshire, the outlook is especially bleak. Our students graduate from college with an average debt burden of more than $30,000, the highest of any state in the country. We want to be first in the nation, but not in student debt.

During student roundtables and a tele-town hall meetings with thousands of Granite Staters, I’ve heard from dozens of students, families, and educators who are deeply concerned about a rate hike. I’ve spoken with students at Nashua Community College, River Valley Community College and Plymouth State University who count on student loans to pay for their education and who know they will go on to graduate with staggering debt burdens. I’ve heard from a grandmother in Salem who’s concerned for her grandson who graduated from college in 2012 with a debt of more than $100,000. I’ve talked to a middle class mother in Plymouth whose two sons — one a college senior, the other an entering freshman — are deeply disheartened by the level of debt they’ll need to take on to pay for their education.

These families aren’t asking for much. They’re not looking for a handout. They don’t expect paying for college to be easy. They just want a chance to help their kids get a good education and build a brighter future. It’s not too much to ask for, and the last thing they should have to worry about is the government making it harder.

That’s why I’ve co-sponsored a bill in Congress called the Student Loan Relief Act, which would freeze the student loan interest rate at the lower 3.4 percent for the next two years. This bill isn’t a perfect fix or a permanent solution. But it will protect students and families from a harmful rate hike on July 1 and give Congress time to address the underlying problem: the rapidly rising cost of higher education.

We can’t allow the United States to become a country where higher education is a luxury reserved for the few. Keeping higher education within the reach of every young person who is willing to work hard is not just important for students, it’s important for our entire economy.

Jobs in the 21st century economy will increasingly require some form of higher education, whether it’s a diploma from a four-year college, a degree from a community college or technical certification. To keep America’s competitive edge in the global economy, we must ensure our young people have the education and skills they need to meet the ever-changing needs of employers. And that means doing everything we can to ensure that young people have affordable pathways to higher education.

So let’s prove to Granite State students and middle class families that we can take a common sense step to help keep higher education within reach by preventing this rate hike. And once we do, let’s get to work on a long-term, comprehensive plan to address college affordability and help lay the foundation for prosperity for the next generation.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congress-ional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.