A good first step on student loans

Polling prior to last fall’s midterm elections indicated that education and the cost of college are top concerns among young people today. We took those concerns, made our voices heard on Nov. 7 and made another historic increase at the ballot box. With over 2 million more young people voting last year, we made our presence known.

The United States Student Association (USSA) is working with members of Congress and the College Affordability Coalition in support of real access for students to higher education. This includes the recently passed legislation HR 5 to cut student loan interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford Loans for undergraduates over the next five years. This is a pivotal first step in providing real access and affordability for students.

Each year on campuses across the nation, students are having to pay more and more money to receive an education, while at the same time programs designed to help ease that burden are being cut. In comparison to 20 years ago, students now need to work longer hours and assume increasing amounts of debt to pay for college. Student loan debt has shot up to unmanageable levels, in some cases being extended to 20 or even 30 years of repayment. This is a threat to American families’ future financial security and the success of our country.

As the president of USSA, and as a recent graduate, I am deeply affected by and concerned about this growing problem. On average, a student graduates with more than $19,300 in loan debt. I have a debt burden that is double that amount, nearly $40,000, and unfortunately, I am not alone in this struggle.

As a first-generation college student at the University of California, San Diego, I have been a recipient of many federal financial aid programs that have been repeatedly targeted for elimination or reduction. I hope that future students, including my three younger sisters and the 200,000 qualified students who are priced out of a college education each year, will be able to benefit from HR 5. In addition to HR 5, Congress must assess the real problems that young people face when trying to attain higher education.

In order to compete in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive global market, Congress must invest in our future. The future of our country, the future of our economy and the future of our success is in education. Students and families have suffered enough in order to pursue higher education. HR 5 is one step in ensuring that education is a priority.

USSA is proud to be in solidarity with others who support this move for change, a change that will lift us out of debt and allow working families to succeed in higher education. This change will secure our future and make education a right!

Jennifer Pae is president of the United States Student Association, .