By Gabriella Levine
On April 5, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) came to Union to give a press conference in support of Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) bill that would maintain and extend student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent.
According to Schumer, student loan debt is “the biggest dilemma facing students in the Capital Region, in New York and across the country.”
Schumer noted that two out of three students nationwide have student loan debt, and that the average cost of a four-year private college has increased to $36,000, an amount that Union far exceeds.
Locally, Schumer’s announcement was of relevance to Union students. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy maintained that the Capital Region and Schenectady benefit from reduced interest rates because of the presence of institutions of higher learning, such as Union.
“To maintain our world competitiveness, kids have to be able to go to college and be able to finance it,” McCarthy asserted.
Over 900 Union students receive federally funded Stafford Loans that do not require payback until six months after graduation, giving many students the necessary resources to attend a college that costs $56,289 a year.
Upon graduation, the average indebtedness of Union students is $26,252. The average Stafford Loan indebtedness for the graduating class of 2011 was $17,644. With an increased interest rate of 6.8 percent, the amount of interest paid on an average Stafford Loan would be $6,722.
“If Congress doesn’t act, the average student’s payments will be thousands and thousands of dollars more,” Schumer stated.
Stafford Loans are often not the only loans students have to take out, and if interest rates increase to 6.8 percent, doubling from their current rate of 3.4 percent, Schumer worries that overall college enrollment will drop and that those who do go to college will not be able to afford a quality education at schools with high tuitions.
McCarthy agreed with Schumer’s concern that enrollment will decrease if the bill is not passed.
“If you can’t afford it, you can’t go. The financing mechanism has to be in place,” McCarthy said.
Schumer agreed, “All the statistics show that you make a much better income when you have a college degree.”
Union’s Vice President of Admissions, Financial Aid and Enrollment Matt Malatesta says this legislation is particularly important to Union students.
“For all students who borrow Stafford Loans, which is a majority of the students at Union, basically it’s how much you’re going to have to pay back after graduation. It’s dollars in our graduates’ pockets,” Malatesta said. “It’s a win for all students who need to borrow to afford to be here,” he continued.
Schumer was confident about the legislation’s chance of success, noting its bipartisan support. He hopes to see it on the Senate Floor within the next month.
“I am going to make a big push to pass this legislation, to freeze the loans at 3.4 percent and to freeze them permanently,” Schumer said.