Stop playing games with college tuition

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My family can’t afford to wait anxiously every year to see if Congress is going to increase the cost of college – and neither can millions of others just like us.


We can’t afford to watch Conservative Republicans try to use every trick in the book to stall and try to force Democrats and President Obama into making a bad deal.

Doubling the interest rates on these so-called Stafford loans to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent will just add to the skyrocketing cost of a college education.

While the news stories note that nobody wants the increase to happen, there is still a good chance that nothing will be done until late June, right before the July 1 deadline.

This terrain is all too familiar. This was a burning issue around this time last year and didn’t get resolved until the last minute, when it became an issue in the presidential campaign.

Once again, this is becoming a political football, as college tuition costs approach the $40,000-a-year mark and with total student debt well over $1 trillion.

We all know that education is a key to success and to the ability to pursue the American Dream. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts median income for college grads at $1,152 a week, almost double the income of someone with just a high school diploma.

A quality education should be within everyone’s grasp, but, increasingly our colleges are becoming enclaves for the elite.

What’s even worse, The New York Times reports that the Congressional Budget Office says the federal government makes 36 cents in profit for every student loan dollar it puts out, and says, “over all, student loans will bring in $34 billion next year.”

The C.B.O. report says the feds will make about 12 cents next year on every dollar of subsidized Stafford loans, 33 cents per dollar on unsubsidized Staffords, almost 55 cents on every dollar of grad school loans, and 49 cents of every dollar of parent loans.

Great, the government has turned loan shark – making student loans into profit centers pulling in bucket-loads of money – much of it coming from students whose families make less than $50,000.

All of this is happening as the national average of yearly tuition is about $30,000 to $40,000 a year at private, four-year colleges. Most of us in the 99 percent don't have anywhere near that kind of money.

Here in New York, the City University (CUNY) system -- which was once free of charge -- is raising tuition by 31 percent over five years, and the State system is also raising its rates.

As tuition has increased, and government aid has decreased, fewer young people – especially working class African-Americans and Latinos -- have access to a college education.

The news coming out of Washington says lawmakers generally agree the rates should not be doubled, but they can’t agree on plan – which means the rates will double if Congress doesn’t act by July 1.

The White House wants to set a yearly variable interest rate pegged to the government’s cost of borrowing, while Republicans also favor a variable rate, but it’s unclear how the want to arrive at that rate.

I, Samantha, and all her friends and their parents will be happy if the government can work this out without increasing interest rates, but it has to be a plan that works for all – not just some.

And it’s also important that it be permanently resolved it in a timely manner so we don’t keep leaving the college-bound at the mercy of Congressional gridlock year after year.

Rivera is the executive director of UnitedNY.

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