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Sen. Hagan pushes student loan bill
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In a roundtable discussion with Charlotte university officials last week, Sen. Kay Hagan, center, talks about college affordability in North Carolina. (Photo: Jordan Reaves for Qcitymetro.com)

With Congress back from its Independence Day break, both parties are vowing to fix a federal provision that allowed the interest rate on student loans to double July 1.

Because Democrats and Republicans could not agree, the interest rate on Stafford loans went from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The new rate applies to new loans, not against money already borrowed.

Last week in Charlotte, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan vowed to make repealing the increase her top priority when Congress resumed July 8.

“Debt is burdening our students, and college education is moving beyond the reach of millions of Americans in our country,” said Hagan July 3 after meeting with a group of university presidents at UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus. “I am not willing to accept that fate for our students.”

Hagan and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed co-sponsored a bill that would take the Stafford loan rate back to 3.4 percent, but it was not immediately clear how much support the bill would garner.

The Stafford loan was created to help low- and moderate-income families borrow money for college at low interest rates. Families that qualify for the loan must make $60,000 or less.

Up until now, the loan rates have been set by Congress, which has not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue. For example, Republicans in the current Congress have pushed to tie interest rate to the 10-year Treasury note – a moved that would make the loan rate adjustable. Democrats have generally favored a fixed rate.

With no agreement on the issue, Congress allowed the legislation to expire that had set the Stafford rate at 3.4 percent.

Hagan, who is up for reelection in 2014, said she wanted the issue to be the first legislation debated when the Senate reconvened. She said about 176,000 North Carolina students would face about $1,000 in additional student loan debt if the interest rate is not reversed.

During a roundtable discussion with the local university leaders – UNC Charlotte chancellor Philip Dubois, Johnson C. Smith University President Ronald Carter, UNC Charlotte provost Joan Lorden, Queens University President Pamela Davies and Central Piedmont Community College President Tony Zeiss – Hagan listened as each spoke about the rising cost of a college education.

Lorden, the UNC Charlotte provost, said students at her school need an average of 9.1 semesters – or four and a half years – to earn a degree, in part because they are forced to seek part-time jobs to help ends meet.

“More of our students are working and working longer hours, which means they don't have as much time to devote to their studies,” said Lorden.

Carter, at JCSU, said 100 percent of his students receive “at least some amount” of financial aid.

“This is a national problem,” he said. “…We have policies that are pushing out hundreds of thousands of students, particularly minority students.”

Also at the table was CPCC student Nathan Lane, who is working to complete his associate’s degree in psychology before transferring to UNC Charlotte. He said he hopes to eventually work in the Peace Corps.

Lane said he is a work-study participant but works two other part-time jobs as well. Along with his work-study, Lane said he works in CPCC’s library and as a security officer at Biltmore Estate, when he stays with family.

“If we continue to saddle our young people with this debt it's going to be difficult for them to take that next step,” Hagan said.

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October 7, 2015
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