Just in time for high school commencement exercises, Congress has wrapped up the graduation gift for college-bound seniors that keeps on giving: Additional years of debt.
The Republican-dominated House has passed legislation that would tie subsidized student loan rates to prevailing market trends, bringing an end to the federal subsidies that have helped keep the overall cost of education in affordable ranges for middle-class families. In plain English, the House-approved solution in effect means that rates on federal Stafford loans -- which now benefit some 7.4 million college students -- would rise to 5 percent in 2014 and 7.7 percent in 2023.
Congress had to do something, though. The subsidized loan rate of 3.4 percent will automatically jump to 6.8 percent if Congress fails to act by July 1. The House's bill just happens to not be a particularly fair solution. It's up the U.S. Senate to come up with a better plan, and soon. The U.S. already has $1 trillion in outstanding student loans and many are struggling to stay afloat. Raising rates makes thing worse.
But can we afford to subsidize higher education? The better question is, can we not? Banks are eligible for loans through the Federal Reserve discount window at rates below 1 percent. Why would we compel college students to pay nine times as much?
The situation hits home particularly hard in Kern County, where educational attainment levels are among the lowest in the nation and poverty is widespread. Places like Kern County don't lift themselves out of such depths without a workforce that is adequately prepared to take on the challenges of a digital economy. Making college a more difficult road hardly serves that need.
Student loans must remain available and substantially affordable. The House's plan takes higher ed in the opposite direction.