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July 23, 2017

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Cost of a degree will get worse if Congress doesn’t act

In the 21st century, a college education should not be for the lucky few. It should be an opportunity for all committed students to build their skills and improve their lives. Those who have done everything right in their academic careers should have a chance to follow their dreams and chart their course for a bright future.

Unfortunately, the cost of getting a degree has been rising faster than inflation for far too long. Tuition rates at four-year colleges and universities have risen over 32 percent in the past decade, and many young Americans are overwhelmed by historically high levels of student debt.

To many, the doors of opportunity appear to be closing. Student loan debt, which stands at $1.1 trillion, now exceeds credit card debt in the United States. This debt problem will only get worse if Congress does not act soon to prevent a student loan rate hike on July 1. If Congress stalls, interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans will double for more than 7 million students, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

This is a serious problem, and that’s why I recently hosted a roundtable discussion with Nevada students struggling to afford their education. One student told us something he had never shared with anyone: To save money while attending college and working as an intern, he lived in his car. Another participant told us about her wish to become a nurse and to be able to send her son to college. Unfortunately, she can’t afford her mortgage as it is, so their futures have been put on hold.

Washington needs to act to make college more affordable, but instead of helping students and families, House Republicans have passed legislation that would make college more expensive. The GOP plan looks surprisingly similar to an adjustable rate mortgage in its variability: something Nevadans know all too well can create a dangerous false impression of low rates. With rising college costs and increasing student loan debt, this bait-and-switch scheme is not a solution.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that this plan will create nearly $4 billion in new student loan interest charges over the next several years. We constantly hear from Republicans that we must not burden future generations with debt, but this is exactly what their legislation does. While interest rates for banks are at historic lows, Republicans want to more than double the cost of loans for students.

Making college more affordable is crucial to fostering America’s economic competitiveness. Business leaders know it. Students know it. If more of today’s students cannot afford college, businesses will not have the workers with the education and training they need to keep our economy competitive and dynamic far into the future.

Democrats in Congress have previously overhauled the college student loan program — ending a flawed system that gave away billions in federal subsidies to private banks that simply acted as middlemen and putting those taxpayer dollars directly in the hands of students to pay for their education. There is still much more to be done, and that’s why I supported legislation that would have prevented a loan rate hike. It was blocked by Republicans in committee, but the fight is not over.

Congress must stop this rate hike and ensure financial aid opportunities afforded today will be available to future students. The cost of college loans should not prevent students from furthering their education. I am an ally of students in this fight and will continue to advocate for lower rates for them in Washington.

Rep. Steven Horsford, a Democrat, represents Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.

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