(Senate - June 27, 2013)

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[Pages S5483-S5484]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                      STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES

  Mrs. SHAHEEN. I rise to congratulate all of these people who worked 
so hard on immigration reform. I think it was a tremendous success for 
this Senate to address an issue that has long been outstanding in this 
country and to come to a resolution that received such strong 
bipartisan support.
  Despite that success one of the things we were not able to do is 
address what is going to happen with student loans which, without any 
action by Congress, we know that subsidized direct student loans will 
increase on July 1 from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
  There are a number of proposals currently on the table. There are 
negotiations underway, and I think all of that is positive.
  As we think about the challenge our young people face, it is 
important we think about getting rid of obstacles that prevent them 
from going on to college and from getting degrees in higher education.
  Last month I had the privilege to speak at the commencement ceremony 
at Keene State College, one of New Hampshire's great public colleges. 
The students were celebrating their graduation. They were eager to put 
their education to work and find meaningful employment. Their optimism, 
their sense of hope, and their enthusiasm to make a difference was 
  As I looked out across the audience that afternoon, I knew that a 
number of those students, probably up to 66 percent, according to 
national statistics, had borrowed money to get their degree. These 
students and their families viewed higher education as so important 
that they were willing to take on significant loans to get that degree. 
It made sense for these students, particularly since recent studies 
have shown that higher education is one of the key factors driving 
upward mobility in the United States.
  Earlier this year the Pew Foundation's Economic Mobility Project 
showed that even during the most recent economic downturn, a 4-year 
college degree provided protection in the labor market for recent 
college graduates.
  Making college affordable for our students is essential to growing 
this country's economy, it is essential to creating jobs, it is 
essential to protecting the middle class, and it is essential to 
providing those future opportunities for our young people.
  On the one hand we know we have to make higher education more 
affordable and available to our young people. Yet on the other hand, 
over the last 30 years, tuition and fees have increased 167 percent at 
private 4-year colleges and 257 percent at public 4-year colleges. If 
we adjust that for inflation, that means tuition has increased faster 
than the cost of gasoline, health care, and other consumer items.
  As we are thinking about how to deal with these student loan interest 
rates, it is important that we provide some protection for our 
students. If we don't, we are going to price middle-class families out 
of a higher education.
  In my State of New Hampshire the student loan debate is especially 
critical. Last year, and for several years before that, New Hampshire 
had the highest average student loan college debt in the country at a 
little over $31,000 per student. Not only do we have the highest 
average loan debt, we also have the second highest percentage of 
students with debt in the country.
  As I listen to these young people, I know the high cost of student 
loans is financially crippling. We have heard from some of those 
students who talk about the challenge they face as the result of the 
cost of their student loans.
  Julianne from Gilmanton wrote ``her education is crushing her.'' She 
earned a master's degree, she works for a New Hampshire State agency, 
and is an adjunct faculty member at two local colleges. To finance her 
education, one that she thought and people told her would guarantee a 
job after graduation, Julianne took out more than $220,000 in loans. 
Last year alone she paid over $13,000 on those student loans. She can't 
buy a house. She can't secure credit. Even though she makes a 
respectable income, she says she can't pursue being an active member of 
the community because she has those student loans hanging over her 
  Lauren Beaudin is another young person we have heard from. She 
graduated from West High School in Manchester a couple of years ago, 
and she received an undergraduate degree in biology. Her degree is in 
one of the STEM subjects, one of the things that is so important to 
this country. When she graduated she looked at her job options. After 
considering some entry-level jobs that paid $25,000 to $30,000, she 
decided she needed to go on and get a master's degree, which would 
provide her better opportunities.
  She is now 22, enrolled in a master's of biology program, and has 
accumulated already over $100,000 in loans. She is concerned about 
struggling to find a job.
  She writes:

       I am not alone. This an entire generation of my peers in 
     this country who did the same. We followed our dreams and 
     earned our degrees because this is America, and you can be 
     what you want to be, as long as you work hard. We have worked 
     so hard. We will keep working hard. But will it be enough? 
     What will it be like for our kids when we are still burdened 
     by our loans after we start families and they [our kids] want 
     to go to colleges with even higher tuition and borrowing 

  Recently, I had a chance to speak with Barbara Ruth Layne, who is the 
executive director of Financial Aid at Granite State College, one of 
our other public colleges in New Hampshire.
  Last year alone Barbara and her colleagues helped students access $9 
million in Federal loans, significant help for students who want to get 
that advanced degree and need financial help to do that. Barbara is 
quick to point out that the number of students helped and the amount of 
financial aid they have received doesn't illustrate the human cost 
those loans take on a student.
  To illustrate the point, she told me the story of a student who lives 
in the North Country of New Hampshire. The student is 35, and she has 
two young children. She struggles to make ends meet. She gets child 
support sometimes, and she supplements that income with food stamps. 
She visits the local food pantry. Her children get clothing from the 
local church. In the winter she gets some fuel assistance, not enough, 
because we have had to cut the fuel assistance program, so she borrows 
money from her family to use a kerosene heater on cold nights to heat 
her home.

  This student understands that education is her only way out, the only

[[Page S5484]]

way she can break the cycle of poverty. She met with counselors at 
Granite State College and developed an educational plan. Although she 
is being careful in borrowing, the debt she is going to graduate with 
is more than she has ever earned in her working years in 1 year. While 
her education is going to prepare her for the job market, she knows the 
payoff isn't immediate. She will continue to struggle to make the 
payments on those student loans and to care for her family.
  With a budget such as she is dealing with, any additional cost of 
those student loans is going to impact this woman and her family.
  Similar to so many of us I have been moved by these students who have 
worked so hard to achieve their education goals and the jobs of their 
dreams. They recognize education is an investment and higher education 
is the path to middle-class success and economic opportunity.
  I think higher education is one of the best investments we can make 
in our country. It is important not just to those young people who are 
getting those degrees to give them the jobs that make them prosperous 
in the future that they are going to be able to support families on, 
but it is critical for America to compete in the global economy. We 
should be doing everything we can to make America a magnet for jobs, to 
ensure our workers have the skills they need to compete, and to help 
Americans get ahead.
  We have to do everything we can to make sure we keep higher education 
affordable for our young people. We must address those costs and not 
try to balance the costs of higher education on the backs of our 
  I am hopeful we will continue to work on how we address the student 
loan interest rate, that we will be able to come to some agreement on 
how to do that in a way that is not going to cost our young people 
their futures, is not going to cost America its future, and is not 
going to price families out of the cost of higher education.
  I yield the floor.
  Mr. BENNET. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. BENNET. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum 
call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.