By Benjamin Klein
Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-NH, spent part of her Monday at Nashua Community College talking with students about how the imminent doubling of student loan interest rates will affect their lives.
Kuster, who has co-sponsored a bill called the Student Loan Relief Act that would prevent subsidized Stafford loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4 to 6.8 percent starting July 1, said New Hampshire students particularly would be hit hard if the rate doubles.
"New Hampshire is first in a lot of things in this country that are positive, but one thing that we are first in that is negative is that New Hampshire is first in the country in terms of average student loan debt," Kuster said.
Kuster went on to say that the average four-year New Hampshire college student owes $32,440 and that 75 percent of all New Hampshire college students are in debt.
"I know the argument for doubling the rate is that we can't afford to keep it so low, but the argument against it is that we can't afford to make college inaccessible to average Americans, that would have terrible social and cultural consequences," Kuster said.
The Student Loan Relief Act would keep the student loan interest rate level at 3.4 percent for the next two years, a timeframe Kuster says is intentional.
"That will give Congress the time to address the problem of the increasing costs of higher education," Kuster said. "Certainly I have colleagues who share my concern on this issue, and I am optimistic of reaching a consensus position in Congress to keep higher education affordable, but I want to see this done in a timely fashion, and not just lurch from crisis to crisis like we have."
With the looming increase in her student loan interest rate, Erica Taylor, a mother of three small children who recently obtained her associates degree, told Kuster that she is now unsure if she and her husband, who is also a Nashua Community College student, will be able to afford to continue with their education.
"To think the rate could double, I am scared, I am scared I can't make payments and balance a household budget," Taylor said.
Michael Burnham, who currently attends Southern New Hampshire University after previously attending Nashua Community College, said that the increase would be a burden not only on himself, but many of his friends as well.
"I am a student, I have a full-time job, and I have a part-time job, and in the back of your mind to just know that school will get more expensive, it can make it difficult for people to decide to continue with school," Burnham said.
Nashua Community College Chief Financial Officer Amber Wheeler said the college is already seeing more students enroll as part-time students instead of attending full-time because of how expensive higher education in New Hampshire has become.
"I can't imagine interest rates doubling and seeing where the students will be," Wheeler said.
Kuster thanked all the students for telling her their stories, explaining that when she goes back to Congress next week, she will us their stories as a way to try to convince her peers of the importance of keeping interest rates low on student loans.
"I try to tell my colleagues that a couple of bucks where I come from goes a long way," Kuster said. "For some people it can mean the difference between owning a car or not, or renting an apartment or owning a house, and that is the kind of stuff that drives our economy."