With time running out for Congressional action to avoid a sharp increase in student loan rates, a small group of community members gathered Thursday at Triangle Park to protest the impending increase.
The interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford student loans is set to double Monday, going from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Bryan Pfeifer, organizing coordinator of the American Federation of Teachers – Kansas, said the event was a part of a nationwide action involving rallies in 75 cities Thursday. He said the goal was to collect signatures for a petition, written by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and distributed through MoveOn.org.
As of Friday morning, nearly 500,000 people nationwide have signed the petition online, which calls for the Stafford student loan rate to be lowered to about 0.75 percent, the same rate “big banks can borrow money through the Federal Reserve discount window.” About 10 persons took part in the local event.
The Senate is expected to vote July 10 on whether to take up a bill that would fix the rate for such loans at 3.4 percent for a year, retroactive to Monday’s increase.
Whether the bill will succeed is unclear. For weeks, the Senate has been in a logjam on student loans ahead of the rate-doubling deadline that was set a year ago.
Ellen Welti, K-State graduate student, attended the rally here, although she does not have any student loan debt. Her parents and grandparents started a college fund for Welti when she was a child. Scholarships helped take care of the remainder.
Welti said she attended the rally Thursday for her friends who will be “paying off their student loans for the next 20 years or so.” She expressed concern about the harm of increasing the burden on students already hurting financially.
“It’s beneficial to all society for more people to have that (university education),” Welti said. “To punish people for getting that education seems like a really negative thing to me.”
Welti said several friends have dropped out because they couldn’t afford school, yet they still have to deal with debt from student loans. “I have some friends who are 40 and still haven’t paid off their student loans, and I don’t know if they ever will,” she said. “They might just die and still have those student loans.”
Pfeifer, who said he comes from a working class family, asserted that “there’s no way” he probably would be able to go to college in 2013 as his “tens of thousands of dollars in student debt” would have increased.
“I barely survive myself today even though I make a halfway decent wage,” he said.
Pfeifer said the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also stands against the tuition increase and higher education cuts.
“Debt mostly” is the tool Eddy Green, a K-State graduate student, said he uses to fund his education. Green said he’s $65,000 to $70,000 in debt due to college and expects to accumulate another $10,000 to $20,000 during his last two years.
“I’m buying an extra house with this debt,” he said. “I’m investing in the possibility of getting a job through a lot of debt.”
Green said increasing the student loan rate will make it more difficult for people from impoverished backgrounds to get educated. “If you don’t come from independent wealth, the way you get educated these days is through debt,” he said.
Green describes his family background as working poor with two generations of people who “died with a significant amount of debt.” He said he has stayed despite his own increasing debt to increase his earning power and provide inspiration for his nieces and nephews.
“It’s important for them to see somebody climb out the muck,” he said. “Even if it’s a bad investment for me, hopefully they’ll see that there’s possibilities.”