Graduate student loan interests cannot be increased
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, graduate and professional students at USC joined graduate and professional students from schools around the nation to host a “Call Congress” day in conjunction with the GradsHaveDebt2 campaign. Graduate Student Government hosted the Call Congress Day on campus as a member of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Undergraduate students considering pursuing graduate degrees also participated, as they will be affected by legislative decisions in the future.
The purpose of the campaign, created by NAGPS and its members, is to educate legislators and the public about postgraduate student debt and interest rate inequality, and to give voice to graduate and professional students in the student loan conversation.
Students at USC called a number of California representatives, including Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Karen Bass for the UPC campus, Representative Xavier Becerra for the HSC campus and California representatives in the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Students have been in contact with representatives on a number of student issues and visited the offices of many of these representatives in Washington, D.C. in September during Legislative Action Days with other graduate students. GSG will be sending another group of students in March to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness on graduate student issues such as student debt.
Student debt in the United States has been an ever-increasing problem in recent years, and is now estimated to exceed all U.S. credit card debt. Massive student debt hurts all Americans, as it prevents students and their families from being active participants in the economy by limiting their ability to invest in major purchases such as buying homes and cars, starting small businesses and starting families. Simultaneously, it creates individual challenges for students and their families who struggle to find the financial support necessary to attain a higher education degree.
Current debt levels for graduate and professional students are staggering. The average master’s student in the United States accumulates $52,000 of debt while pursuing his or her degree; the average doctoral student, $72,000 of debt and the average professional student, $113,000 of debt. Graduate and professional students have higher debt burdens, on average, than undergraduates since they often carry debt from their undergraduate studies into their graduate studies. They are also typically older than undergraduate students and no longer have parental support; instead, they may have families of their own to support.
Despite these challenges, graduate and professional student debt has been paid little attention in the conversation about national student loan debt, and recent political efforts continue to strip away loan options for graduate and professional students, which increases their debt levels. For example, in July 2012, graduate and professional students lost their eligibility to obtain subsidized Stafford Loans. Losing the subsidy means graduate and professional students now accrue interest on their loans while pursuing their degrees, which adds $18 billion to postgraduate student debt over the next 10 years. More recently, this summer’s student loan legislation increased the interest rate cap from 6.8 percent to up to 10.5 percent for graduate student loans.
In short, graduate education continues to be more expensive at a time when we need more advanced degrees than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs requiring graduate degrees will grow nearly 20 percent in the next five years. These jobs will be crucial for reinvigorating the economy and continuing U.S. growth; yet, the federal government continues to send signals to U.S. students that graduate school and debt is not important enough for their investment. This week students, at USC tried to change this trajectory by speaking up about the benefits of graduate education and the need that graduate and professional students face. Graduate education will continue to help our nation achieve its highest potential, and we ask that Congress take action to reduce graduate student debt to ensure this is possible. These jobs will be crucial for reinvigorating the economy and continuing the United States’ growth; yet, the federal government continues to send signals to U.S. students that graduate school and debt is not important enough for their investment. This week, students at USC tried to change this trajectory by speaking up about the benefits of graduate education and the need that graduate and professional students face. Graduate education will continue to help our nation achieve its highest potential, and we ask that Congress take action to reduce graduate student debt to ensure this is possible.
President, USC Graduate Student Government