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Public Statements

CBC Hour: Higher Education

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. KELLY of Illinois. Thank you for your leadership, Congressman Jeffries.

This weekend, three students very close to me celebrated their college graduations: Brace Clement at the University of Wisconsin, Amelia Lumpkin at Davidson College, and Whitney Horn at the Illinois Institute of Technology. These three young people represent the best and brightest this country has to offer.

Congratulations Brace, Amelia, and Whitney. I am extremely proud of you. They are just three of the thousands of students across the country who celebrated their college graduations this weekend. It's a joyous time, but for some it's also a nervous time because more students than ever are walking across the stage weighed down by student loan debt.

The cost of a college degree has increased by more than 1,000 percent in the last 30 years, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Two-thirds of students who earn 4-year degrees graduate with an average student loan debt of more than $25,000, according to the report. Today, 37 million students are facing student loan debt, and the total student loan debt burden tops $1.1 trillion.

The mounting student debt is stunting the growth of a generation of graduates who are facing a tough job market and high student loan payments, or putting off key milestones, such as buying a house or starting a family, which further stifles the country's economic recovery.

The problem is most acute among students of color, with 81 percent of African American students graduating in debt compared to 64 percent of White students. And not only are more Black students graduating with debt, they are graduating with higher levels of debt. According to the report, 27 percent of Black bachelor degree recipients have more than $30,000 in debt, compared to 16 percent of their White counterparts. It is against this backdrop that student loan rates are set to double on July 1.

A Republican bill being considered this week would have student loan interest rates change year to year, based on a 10-year Treasury note, a move that could push rates as high as 7.4 percent. This is unacceptable.

Raising interest rates on student loans will be pricing our students out of the American Dream. At a time when a college degree is more vital than ever to national and global competitiveness, we will be putting the goals of attaining a degree further out of reach of our young people, particularly young people of color.

Our students, many of whom have graduated to find themselves unemployed or underemployed, are already struggling to pay back loans at the current rate level and are facing years--and, in some cases, decades--of loan payments ahead. Raising the rates on students who are already struggling to make ends meet is just wrong, counterproductive, and will have a chilling effect on future generations of students who will be forced to forego an education due to skyrocketing costs. We should be opening more avenues to a college education for young people, not slamming the door shut in their faces.

I agree with my colleagues that a two-step approach is needed to address the student loan crisis. We should first freeze the current rate, 3.4 percent, on subsidized Stafford loans for the next 2 years and keep other educational loan rates steady to remove the immediate fear of students and their families of the impending rate increase. We should then investigate longer-term solutions to the student loan problem as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing our Nation's mounting student debt, escalating college costs, and broken financial aid system as a whole.

In investigating options for increasing college affordability, I agree with the notion that we should, at the very least, be open to giving our students the same interest rates we extend to banks. Our young people deserve the same backing and support. It is not only the right thing to do, but the investment in our students will net a much bigger payoff for our Nation for generations to come.

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