With graduation day less than a month away, many Ohio State students are looking toward the future. But what used to be a periodic reminder of student loan debt in the form of monthly statements and a bleeding bank account, has been a constant political issue, almost impossible to avoid.
Student loan debt has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, and President Barack Obama and Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney have campaigned to keep student loan interest rates low, bringing student loan debt to the political forefront.
The first attempt to freeze federal interest rates for student loans at 3.4 percent was shot down in U.S. Senate May 8. Federal student interest rates are still set to reach 6.8 percent if Congress takes no further action until July 1.
Senate Republicans overpowered a Democratic proposal to end a tax break for the wealthy to keep the student loan interest rates down. However, Republicans want to avoid raising the rate on the loans. They have said the money should be brought in by eliminating a public health fund created by Obama’s new health-care law.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he does not agree with the idea of eliminating the public health fund during his visit to OSU’s campus on May 5.
“Republicans will only agree to use money denying people preventative health care that could help save their lives,” Brown said. “We should never have to choose between a woman getting a mammogram and a student getting a Stafford Loan.”
On May 9, a group of students gathered on the Oval to discuss this issue and how it will be affecting OSU students. Nick Macek, a first-year in public health affairs and international studies, said he can only attend OSU because of federal loans.
“Senate Republicans need to change their tune today,” Macek said. “It’s unbelievable that they’re putting me, my friends and the rest of my peers at risk by blocking such measures as the one that was blocked just the other day.”
Obama visited OSU’s campus on May 5 to officially kick off his 2012 re-election campaign. Romney took a visit to central Ohio about a week before, speaking to a group of students at Otterbein University April 27 about the economy and student loan debt.
Niraj Antani, communication director for College Republicans, said he thinks the issue is very important to OSU students.
“A student loan interest rate hike would be severely detrimental to Ohio State students,” Antani said. “That’s why the House Republicans and Gov. Romney have proposed to keep it at the current rate by eliminating a slush fund in Obamacare.”
Mallory Kimble, president of OSU College Democrats, said students should be wary of Romney’s position to keep student interest rates low due to his support of the Ryan Budget, or the spending plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), that changes the structure of Medicare and rewrites the tax code, among other things.
“(Romney) should show leadership by calling on congressional leaders like Speaker (John) Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan to support the president’s proposal,” Kimble said. “Because the only thing standing in the way of young people being able to afford college is the Republican Congress.”
According to the White House website, the increase in interest on federal student loans will affect about 7 million students nationwide and cost each student an additional $1,000 over the lifetime of their loans.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would cost close to $6 billion for one year to extend the low interest rates.
Nathaniel Swigger, an OSU political sciences professor, said he is not surprised that both candidates are campaigning for the issue.
“Mostly, this seems like a pretty reasonable, non-partisan issue for both candidates,” Swigger said. “Student loans poll pretty well and making college affordable polls very well.”
Kal Penn, an associate director of the White House office of public engagement, said time is running out for U.S. lawmakers.
“As you can see, the clock is ticking,” Penn said. “We need to take action and take action before July 1.”