I'm from Downriver, the southern suburbs of Detroit--a place that prides itself on its blue-collar work ethic and its pursuit of the American Dream. My father is an immigrant from Malta and my mother is a second-generation Mexican-American. They met while working on the line in a factory, a familiar story for working class families in the Detroit area. When they raised my siblings and me, my parents made it their mission to give us a better life than the one they live.
Next June, I will fulfill that mission when I am first in my family to graduate from college. With a degree from Kalamazoo College, doors of opportunity will be opened to me that my parents never dreamed of when they were my age. Spending hours in a classroom instead of on an assembly line has become my ticket to the middle class--but at a cost of $27,000 in student loans.
And this isn't just my story. Thousands of other students across Michigan are embracing the new, creative economy--at a cost. We know that those auto jobs aren't returning, so young people and their families are willing to take out student loans to finance a college education. This past academic year, 303,368 students in Michigan had a federal loan. Altogether, Michigan students borrowed a total of $1,202,383,078, according to the White House.
Yet, the cost of borrowing is going to jump on July 1. The Senate is on recess and failed to act. So as it stands, interest rates on student loans will double to 6.8 percent--an additional cost of approximately $1,000. In many ways, it's an extra tax on students. This will jeopardize my American Dream, and the dreams of an entire generation.
What's worse is that the government actually makes money off our student loans. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the government made $50 billion on student loans this year. That margin is expected to increase an additional $21 billion. Some of that money goes toward Pell Grants, but most of it goes to paying down misguided decisions like the War in Iraq and tax breaks to corporations that ship our Detroit jobs overseas.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Just this week, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and other Senate Democrats introduced S. 1238, a bill to retroactively lower the student loan interest rate to 3.4% for one year. During that extension, Congress can come up with a much-needed, long-term solution.
Because why should working and middle class young people be burdened with paying the costs of government? College is supposed to be an opportunity for us to achieve our dreams, not an opportunity for the government to pay its debt.
If you're a student, a parent, or a grandparent, this affects you or the students you love. That's why I'm urging you to call your U.S. Senators and Representatives. Tell them to support S. 1238 to keep our interest rates low. If you're contacting them over social media, make sure to include #DontDoubleMyRate. Those of us who have federal student loans can't afford to pay for the costs of government when we can barely afford to go to college and pursue the American Dream.
And let's make one thing clear: If Congress doesn't keep our rates low, students will vote. We had this same fight over student loans last year. Because of that, we went to the polls in record numbers in 2012, and we can do the same in 2014. Don't turn the opportunity of the American Dream into an American Nightmare of debt for hundreds of thousands of Michigan students. That's something that we won't forget.