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Mr. HELLER. Mr. President, I rise in support of efforts to prevent an increase in the student loan rates.
For millions of Americans, education is the key to success and a better future for themselves and for their families. Workers with a bachelor's degree today earn about 70 percent more each year than those with only a high school diploma. We all want a better life for our children and for our grandchildren, and for many of them, a college education is part of achieving that goal.
However, higher education carries an increasingly substantial pricetag. One of my children has already completed her higher education, both my sons are currently in college, and my youngest is preparing for her posthigh school education. I know firsthand the financial strain on both the college students and their families.
The inflation-adjusted cost of college has almost tripled over the last 25 years, while median family income over the same period of time has risen only about 10 percent. Fees keep rising rapidly, soaring 8.3 percent last year at public universities and 4.5 percent at private institutions. In 2009, more than half of all public college graduates were in debt, with an average loan burden of nearly $20,000. For private college graduates, the percentage and amount of debt is even greater. The loan burden itself is substantial, and the last thing graduates need to worry about is high interest rates on these loans.
I was proud to vote for the initial efforts to keep student loan interest rates low back when I was serving in the House in 2007. Now I am a proud cosponsor of the Interest Rate Reduction Act which has been offered by my friend, the Senator from Tennessee, Mr. Alexander. This legislation prevents student loans from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, and I truly hope Congress will be able to come together with a bipartisan agreement soon to prevent this increase from going into effect on July 1.
While student loan rates should be addressed, I am even more worried about the overall economic climate facing college grads. Recent reports found that more than half the bachelor degree holders under the age of 25 last year, which was 1.5 million young Americans, were jobless or underemployed. Of the 1.5 million languishing in the job market, half were underemployed. These young would-be professionals are either unemployed and unable to start paying their loans or have a job that may only provide enough for them to barely scrape by paycheck to paycheck. Instead of becoming the workforce of the next generation, the majority of recent graduates are finding their personal lives and finances mired in this ailing economy. Parents who have been laid off or who have seen their savings diminish have not been able to help their children through their education as they may have planned or wanted to. Our children and grandchildren are paying the price for Washington's failure to lead our Nation out of this economic crisis.
Addressing student loan rates is important and we need to accomplish that work promptly, but our work for America's colleges students and recent graduates is far from over. Congress should be doing something every day to provide more stability and certainty for businesses so they will create jobs and hire these graduates. We need to pass a budget and review expiring tax provisions. We need to get bureaucratic redtape out of the way and let American job creators do what they do best. Let's not put off until tomorrow what we can do today to make sure good-paying jobs will be available for graduates who have worked so hard to provide for a better future and let's pass a bipartisan measure that keeps student interest rates low.
Thank you. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Will the Senator suspend his request?
Mr. HELLER. I will.
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