Unless Congress acts to change it, Rhode Island students will see a 3.4 to 6.8 percent change in the interest rates of Stafford Student Loans this July. This financial burden, causing the interest rates to double will affect more than 7 million students, without congressional action.
As a result, Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline visited Rhode Island College to speak with the community about his concerns that increasing rates will make higher education unaffordable.
“To allow the interest rate to double for so many families is inconceivable to me” said Cicilline, who vowed to prevent that from happening. “We can’t afford as a country to allow this to happen.”
As cosponsor of H.R. 3826, which would prevent student interest rates from doubling, Cicilline has been speaking to students, parents, stakeholders and business to leaders in Rhode Island about their views on the issue. His stop at RIC last Tuesday was to do just that.
“Personalizing this is really important to Congress,” Cicilline said, “the voices of young people can really make a difference.”
Students from other colleges throughout the state as well as area business leaders were in attendance at the event. Among the RIC students there were Student Community Government, Inc. President Travis Escobar, Speaker of Parliament Hillary Costa and SCG Treasurer Jordan Day.
Escobar, who said he was the first in his family to go to college, hopes that his 13-year-old niece will get the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.
“We need to be the ones to carry the future of our family,” he said. “Will my niece be able to do what she loves or will she have to take a job to pay off loans?”
Day explained that if the rates were to change, it would feel as though students were being punished.
Kevin Manel, who transferred from Providence College to Roger Williams University, attended the event to voice his opinion to the Congressman.
“I felt comfortable [switching colleges] but tuition is still rising,” he said.
“We want to be part of the solution to serving you and students to come,” said Lorne Adrain, chair of the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. “We need to find ways to do more with less and serve the students with the assets that we have.”
“Providing incentives to do more with less to making lower cost education become available,” he explained, could be done by offering more online courses and saving colleges and students money through the use of technology.
“It’s clear from all the stories it’s important to keep [the rates] low,” said Cicilline. “The question is – how are we going to pay for it?”
The Republican solution, which was passed with a $5.9 billion bill in the House last month, is implying that financial burden can be paid for by taking money from a preventive health-care fund in President Obama’s health-care law to keep the interest rates from doubling. The Republican Party’s decision ignored a White House veto threat when they passed the bill, according to The Boston Globe’s Boston.com.
Cicilline also told the news source that he supports reducing oil subsidies and corporate tax loopholes to raise the money instead.
“From my perspective we have to prevent these from doubling,” said Cicilline. “It’s outrageous we have to pick between the health of women and children and keeping student loans low.”
Kathy Sheilds, who is the director of the business Tech Collective and the parent of a high-school senior who is college-bound, says the rising cost of higher education will change the way Rhode Island will get out of the recession. She said many students who can’t afford education here will have to leave the state, taking their skills with them.
“I think that’s really important to emphasize to Washington,” she said.
Gerldine McPhee, representing the R.I. Parent Information Network, said she is currently $10,000 in student debt.
“It’s a lot of money,” she said. “I could have started a business. I could have helped my family pay off their house.”
“I’d like to take all of your comments with me today,” said Cicilline, who will be sharing these stories with Congress this week, hoping to change the course of the bill.