College needs to be affordable

Emily Bialkowski

Managing Editor

Last week I received a press release from the office of Rep. Tim Walz, D-MN, about a bill he supports to stop student loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013.

The bill, the Student Loan Relief Act of 2013, would lock in the lower interest rate until July 1, 2015.

In his release Walz says, “The path to the American Dream runs through college campuses across this nation. As teacher and a parent, I know how critical a high-quality education is to our country’s economic future and I also know how much anxiety middle-class families feel about the rising cost of college. Allowing interest rates to double will make college more expensive and it will make the American Dream for over 200,000 Minnesota students that much harder to realize.”

The release further states that students at Minnesota public and private universities currently graduate with an average debt load of nearly $30,000. The average student would see their debt load increase by about $1,000 per year of school if the bill doesn’t pass.

In the mid-90s, when I entered college, paying for my secondary education was as big a worry for me. My mother was single, had three of us to worry about, and there was no stockpile of money of any type, let alone money to help pay for college. Back then I was relieved to see the propane tank filled to heat the house over winter.

But the thought of aquiring tens of thousands of dollars in debt came secondary to the thought of finding a decent job. I knew I’d get a degree. I always knew it. I knew I never wanted to worry about paying the most essential of bills – heat, electricity, grocery – the way my mom worried about it.

As I visited college campuses and considered the cost, I remember a moment, just a moment, when I wondered if I’d ever really afford such an education. And mom said, “Pick the college you want to go to first and worry about paying for it second.”

It was the best advice she may have ever given me. I chose the right college for my needs and in doing so remained motivated and driven to attain that degree. I am the first person in my family to have earned a college degree, and I paid for it myself.

I’m actually still paying for it 13 years later, but if it weren’t for scholarships, a Federal Pell Grant, federal Perkins loan and a federal student loan, I would have never finished college. And now that I am well out of college and a contributing member of society in terms of paying taxes and paying my bills, I am quite thankful that my student loan interest rate hovers near two percent.

To think that other needy students might face interest rates higher than some mortgages is heartbreaking to me. Without the support system I had, I would have never finished college.

I know budgets are beyond tight, but I am a direct product of how making college affordable helps society. Without my education, I couldn’t afford a home or the land I own – all things that require a tax payment. Without that tax revenue, the burden of paying for roads, public schools, emergency services, etc. would fall on fewer and fewer people.

I’m glad Walz, along with 60 of his colleagues, is trying to keep a college education affordable.

“We should be encouraging higher education, not creating hurdles to it. Congress needs to take immediate action to keep students in the classroom and to keep interest rates low,” he said.

I happen to agree.

 

You can contact Emily Bialkowski at emily.bialkowski@ecm-inc.com

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