Students to Congress: Don’t double my rate


by Colleen Flaherty

Renatae Cuffee is currently getting her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Delaware State University and working to support herself and her three children. As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she is speaking up for herself, her family and her future students. This week, she came to Capitol Hill to deliver an important message to Congress – don’t double the student loan interest rate.

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“This issue is important to me because I am currently accruing and paying on students loans, my daughter will be attending school in a couple of years and I will have to assist her with her school loans,” said Cuffee, whose oldest daughter is currently a high school student.

“Increasing the rate will make it hard to maintain financial obligations within the home and continuing to pay on loans without defaulting on them.”

If Congress doesn’t take action by July 1, the federal student loan interest rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, which will affect parents, students and educators for the worse.

“As a future educator, how can I in good conscience encourage my students to attend college, further their education and chase their dreams knowing that they will obtain so much debt that they may never be homeowners or be able to sufficiently provide for their families?” asked Cuffee.

Cuffee is a member of the NEA Student Program which represents over 60,000 students studying to become educators. She joined David Tjaden, a recent University of Iowa graduate, and Joshua Watson, a recent Arizona State University graduate, in visiting congressional offices to share their own stories and anecdotes from students across the country who are affected by student loan debt.

“We all fear for that senior in high school who has to decide whether or not to set aside a college acceptance letter based on the skyrocketing costs of higher education,” said Tjaden. “Our lawmakers must take steps to ensure that those students have the ability to pursue their career choices without the burdens and barriers of high student loan interest rates.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressing the Student Loan Affordability Act
Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressing the Student Loan Affordability Act

With student loan debt in this country reaching an astounding $1 trillion last year, student leaders know that shifting more of the burden to students is not the answer.

Thankfully, some members of Congress are behind them. On Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke in favor of the the Student Loan Affordability Act, legislation that would keep the low rate for the next two years. While the bill was defeated in a Thursday vote, the senators aren’t giving up.

“This really is about our values,” said Senator Warren. “Have we become a people who will support our big banks with nearly-free loans, while we crush our kids who are trying to get an education? The student loan program makes obscene profits on the backs of our students. This is morally wrong, and we must put a stop to it.”

Warren, who recently proposed that students should borrow at the same rate as big banks, said she has faith in student activists to stop the rates from doubling.

“Our students don’t have high-paid lobbyists to look out for their interests, but they do have their voices,” said Warren. “Our students and their families are asking for what is right. They are asking for something we can easily afford. Let’s show them that government can work for them.”

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