Double opportunity for students, not debt

By Congressman Pete Gallego —

Our values as Americans are that hard-work, not circumstance, is the basis for success.

My
paternal grandfather tended cattle, my maternal grandfather built
fences, and my parents ran a restaurant. Today I have the privilege of
representing the 23rd district in congress. My story would not have been
possible without the doors of opportunity that a college education
opened.

Being the youngest of three children, I knew my parents
didn’t have the financial means to put another child through college. So
I lived at home, paid my way through Sul Ross State University by
working three jobs, and graduated in two years. Although I finished my
undergraduate studies debt-free, I depended on student loans to get
through law school.

I was married and well into my tenure as a
state legislature by the time I finished paying them off. And, that was
many years ago – when tuition was much lower.

Today, the problem
of student debt is exacerbating. Budget writers in Texas are giving
fewer resources to public universities. In turn, as universities have to
deal with tighter budgets, they pass the costs on to students.

And,
as tuition continues to skyrocket, more and more students are relying
on student loans and graduating with mountains of debt. Student loan
debt now exceeds credit card debt in the United Sates.

To
provide some relief to students from high interest rates on need-based
loans, Congress in 2007 passed the College Cost Reduction and Access
Act. This law lowered interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans each
year until they reached their current low of 3.4 percent. This was done
by ending a flawed system that gave away billions in federal subsidies
to private banks that acted as middle-men – and instead gave those
savings directly to the taxpayers. Millions of students across our state
and across our country benefited from lower rates – namely students
from middle-income families.

Last year, Congress extended the
low 3.4 percent interest rate. However, those student loan rates could
double to 6.8 percent on July 1 when the law expires. If that happens,
seven million student borrowers will be forced to pay an additional
$1,000 a year.
Sadly, the issue of student debt has become partisan.

Rather
than work on a long-term solution to keep rates low for students,
extremists in Congress passed a bill that would actually make college
more expensive. According to the Congressional Research Service,
students and families would pay higher interest costs under the proposal
by extremists than in allowing rates to double. With the job market
still recovering, we should not ask students with the greatest need to
be burdened by higher loans costs.

At a time when interest rates
for banks are at historic lows, we cannot double the rates for students
and middle-income families. Making college more affordable and
attainable today is one of the best investments we can make for the
future of our country.
A college education opens the door to
opportunity- and for many families, it’s the stepping stone to the
middle class. In this country, a college education is not supposed to be
reserved for a privileged few.

Let’s keep the hope for a more
prosperous future alive for today’s students. Let’s make sure they can
get a college education without being indebted for life.