NJPIRG, representatives look to inform students on loan interest rates
President Barack Obama planning to enact changes by June 1
June 1 is looming, and for many University students throughout the country, this date signifies the time when student loan interest rates will double.
Student representatives from New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, along with John Connelly, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, held a press conference on the steps of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus yesterday in response to this issue.
The goal was to inform students about the changes that President Barack Obama plans to enact changes regarding student loans, and voice the stance they are taking on the issue.
Justin Habler, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, talked about NJPIRG’s “photo petition,” an initiative where students take a picture with a “Don’t Double my Rate” sign which NJPIRG sends to local officials.
“It’s a lot more effective when legislators and Congress people see the faces that they are actually going to be affecting with the decision instead of just seeing the names, because they see a lot of names,” he said.
Habler said as a part of their campaign, NJPIRG is gathering stories from students with student loan debt to make sure that Congress notices the people it will affect.
In addition to the photo petition and story gathering, Alef Tadese, an NJPIRG volunteer and School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said the group aims to gather 1,500 signed petitions before the end of the semester as a part of the campaign.
Thomas Papathomas, Busch campus dean, feels strongly about the rise of student-loan interest rates. With more than 16,000 students receiving financial assistance each year, he said students of the lower and middle classes are struggling to move upward in society when saddled with debt.
“Rutgers University plays a very critical role in educating our future leaders, our future teachers, our future writers, our future professionals, our future scientists, and they need these loans as much as anybody,” he said.
As a dean, Papathomas said he meets many students struggling with loans and sympathizes with them. He imagined how difficult it would be if he personally had such a loan after finishing his degree.
“Nowadays, people need to borrow money to graduate, and then after they graduate, they find themselves looking for jobs for a year or two before they even get employed,” he said.
Papathomas also talked about how even with the current 3.4 percent interest rate, the banks turn profit. So when the rates rise, it is because of banks’ greed.
Connelly, also a member of the board of directors for the United States Student Association, said he apprecieted seeing Obama stand up for Pell Grants, which benefit working-class families.
As a graduating senior, Connelly is happy with the president’s “Pathways Back to Work for Americans Looking For Jobs” initiative, which focuses on youth employment. Obama is giving the program $12.5 billion to help young people find jobs.
Connelly discussed the reasons why students should be worried about the loan interest rates.
“We need to work to move the conversation away from how to create less debt to how to avoid debt altogether,” he said.
Connelly emphasized the 1 trillion dollars of student debt mark, reached about two years ago.
“We have $1 trillion of not real money in our economy, and if you remember the 2008 housing crisis, that’s a big problem,” he said.
Connelly said as a country, the United States to move away from variable rate interest loans and take on fixed interest rates. Fixed rates make it possible for families to budget for the future, because they know exactly the amount of money they will need to pay off a loan.
“Students in the future won’t know how much student debt they’re actually going to be in when they sign up for those loans, which adds a lot of uncertainty into what are already economically turbulent times,” he said.