EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 21, 2013

Doubling student loan rates have parents worried

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — For Mike Coupal of Pelham, the cost for sending his daughter Brooke to go to Merrimack College for four years was already a concern. But with the potential for a doubling of interest rates, Coupal is starting to prepare for bigger loan payments.

“We’ve already exhausted all avenues for her freshman year,” he said. “But we will have to see what happens for the remainder.”

Coupal is among many parents eager to see what happens in Congress with student loans. A July 1 deadline is quickly approaching as the interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans will increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, if Congress doesn’t act.

Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have pledged to do all they can to prevent the hike from taking effect.

The last thing we should do at a time when Americans owe more on student loans than credit cards is to let interest rates on student loans double,” said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. We have a responsibility to prevent this from happening; the cost of inaction is too high.”

According to Shaheen, New Hampshire has the highest average student college debt in the nation at $31,408 per student.

Currently, the Senate is working on a bipartisan compromise to prevent interest rates from doubling, while setting an individual rate each year. The rates would be dependent on financial markets.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was planning ot meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday about the proposal.

“The compromise proposal is very encouraging, and I’m reviewing the details and continue to believe we will resolve this on a bipartisan basis,” she said.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H. held a teIephone town hall earlier this week to talk with residents concerned about the hike.

“If Congress fails to act in the next few weeks, our students will be hit with a rate hike that will make it even harder for them to afford higher education,” she said in a statement.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., called for a vote on legislation which would extend the current 3.4 percent vote for the next two years.

“Republican Speaker John Boehner should allow a vote on H.R. 1595, straightforward legislation to freeze the current student loan interest rate, and help students and families who are struggling with college costs,” Shea-Porter said in a statement.

Tara Payne, vice president of college planning at New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation, has met with parents around the state who are concerned about the hikes.

“People are struggling to pay the bill for college as it is,” Payne said. “Now , if you add this burden of possible increase on interest rate, that really hurts the vulnerable students who have qualified for the subsidized loans because they need them.”

Payne said she believes higher rates go against the nation’s education goals.

“We want a workforce who has gone to higher education,” she said. “This is counterintuitive to things we’ve been telling families. This policy isn’t really matching up with goals for our nation.”

Sherri Averill of Plaistow will be sending her daughter Annie to Brandeis in January. She said she doesn’t know why Congress wouldn’t act to prevent the hike.

“I just don’t understand why we aren’t valuing higher education,” she said. “If people in this country do well it can benefit our entire society. It needs to be more manageable.”

Averill said her daughter was fortunate to receive several scholarships but couldn’t imagine what it would be like for some other families.

“I’m just at a disbelief at the enormous cost of the education,” she said. “I’m sure it’s a deterrent to a lot of people and just a feeling of hopelessness.”