Higher interest rates raise college students' worries

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - More than seven million college students are pinning their hopes on Congress to roll back the interest rates on their student loans. On Monday, they doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Briana Mullen
Briana Mullen CBS News

Lawmakers have promised to take up the issue when they return from their break next week. But many students are running out of patience.

Briana Mullen, a junior at the University of California, Berkeley, calls the new rate for student loans a hardship. She says a rate of 6.8 percent will add $1,300 to her long-term debt when she's already putting herself through college and working two jobs to hold down her debt.

"I think it's really unfair for students to be in this place where they're- can't even bet on the next three years," she said, "or they can't even bet that they'll be able to finish their college degree and still be able to afford rent after they graduate, let alone even finding a job in their desired profession."

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Anthony Paolino, a senior at Providence College, worries the new interest rate will harm veterans. Paolino, who has been on five deployments, including Iraq and Afghanistan, is also a counselor for veterans who need loans for college expenses not covered by the GI Bill. Because the new rate will add $2,600 to the average student debt, he said some veterans won't even consider college.

Anthony Paolino
Anthony Paolino CBS News

"They're already having transitional struggles," Paolino said of veterans. "I'm concerned, as an advocate, that a lot of our students will be discouraged - even if it's just a little bit - they would be discouraged enough for them to walk away."

Both parties in Congress agree that 6.8 percent is too high; they just don't agree on how to fix it. And by going home on recess last Friday, Congress missed its own deadline for avoiding the increase.

The Republican-controlled House did pass a bill that ties student-loan rates to the U.S. Treasury borrowing cost, plus 2.5 percent. This week that rate would be 5 percent, but the rate could vary and float up to a maximum of 8.5 percent.

But the Republican bill would also help lower the deficit by $3.7 billion, and that amount is a problem for most Senate Democrats. Majority Leader Harry Reid says it's too much to collect from students.

"We don't think there should be deficit reduction based on the backs of these young men and women trying to go to college," Reid said.

The Senate is working on a compromise bill and all sides promise the 6.8 percent rate will be reduced with a credit to any student who pays it. But as Congress left for its recess major differences remained between the House and Senate and the pathway to the deal being promised isn't clear.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.