“Today, we urge Congress to vote to provide a victory to the 7 million young Americans who are terrified their student loan rates will double. This would be a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of Rebuild the Dream members who worked tirelessly writing letters, calling their members of Congress, and organizing their friends on campuses and in homes across America," said Van Jones, co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream the day before the final vote. "If we win, it won’t be because Congress did this out of the goodness of their hearts. They were pushed. And the movement that made it happen isn't going away. This is just one step toward preventing the soaring cost of higher education and the broken economy from eroding the American Dream itself. We're going to keep fighting, and I invite every member of Congress who votes on progress today to join us."
Jones, an environmental advocate, civil rights activist, and attorney, isn’t alone in his concerns about the rising costs of higher education. While Congress’ recent action will keep the interest rates on student loans from rising to 6.8 percent, up from 3.4, Congress has also cut government funding for higher education.
The extension of the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act was passed in the House by a vote of 373-52 and in the Senate by a vote of 74-19. However, next year, Congress will have to revisit interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans in order to find a long-term solution.
“(The government) made some major cuts in education period. Some students have been reluctant to go into college and have opted to go into shorter programs so they don’t have to take so much loan debt,” said Herman Reid, former director of NEED. “If you look at the cost of tuition that’s a major concern as well.”
During his time with NEED, Reid saw the importance of providing scholarships for African-American students pursing college. He said he would like to see more people supporting scholarship and grant programs.
“If you begin to look at student loan amounts anything that can help the students from having their loan debt incur is a plus,” Reid said. “What really needs to happen is the community needs to get behind more of these scholarship programs instead of having students take on more loan debt.”
Reid said the fate of student loan interest rates and the rising cost of higher education will depend on the 2012 presidential election. He also said the state of the economy and poor job market has impacted many students’ decisions to pursue college.
“Generally speaking, it’s a major concern in one area because people have to pay this back and if they can’t get a job that’s a problem,” Reid said. “If the job market doesn’t improve, students will be more reluctant to take on that debt.”