It's that time of the year again. Unless Congress takes action, interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. Sound familiar? It's because we were in the very same situation last year.
Today, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) unveiled new legislation that would prevent student loan interest rates from doubling for two years. They were joined by student advocacy groups and college student body presidents from around the country.
Reed said he was hopeful about the legislation passing through Congress. He spoke of the diversity of colleges–some of them rivals–that the student leaders standing behind him represented. "If they can come together, certainly Congress can come together," Reed joked.
Taylor Williams, student body president at the University of Minnesota, said that having to fight to keep student loan interest rates from doubling every year was a distraction from the larger concern of how to ease the burden of debt on students.
Samantha Zwerling, student body president at the University of Maryland, felt similarly frustrated. Zwerling advocated for keeping interest rates low on student loans last year and decided to return to Capitol Hill again this year.
"It's crazy that we haven't figured out a long-term solution to this problem and the fact that we need to fight this battle every single year to make sure that students can afford college. And it's not even about making tuition low…it's the interest rate on their loans," she told Campus Progress.
Reed said he recognized that this was simply a short-term fix, but emphasized that it was crucial. He did say, however, that there was a need to begin a national conversation on long-term solutions for addressing the growing amount of student loan debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion.
"At some point, we have to think about a cap [on student loan interest rates]," Reed said.
Courtney praised student activists and their work on this issue. He noted that last year's success at preventing the interest rates from doubling was only due to incredible "external pressure" from students and other advocacy groups.
The National Campus Leadership Council released a letter to President Obama and Congress today that calls for any legislation that seeks to solve the problem of the student debt crisis to include four main considerations: "keeping student loan interest rates affordable, making debt repayment options simple and accessible, reinvesting cost savings back into financial aid, and supporting Pell Grants as the bedrock of financial aid."
While there are no specific proposals for how to pay for keeping interest rates low for two years within the legislation, Reed said that there are "numerous offsets that are possible."
Reed highlighted the time-sensitive nature of this issue, saying that there are only 80 days until the rates double.
To learn more about Campus Progress's campaign to tackle educational debt, visit www.itsourinterest.org or join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag, #ItsOurInterest. Or, use the form below to share your story with us.