Daily Tar Heel: Making college more affordable

Making college more affordable

Richard Burr



Bipartisan agreement can be hard to find these days in Washington. I’m proud to have led the bipartisan effort that is making higher education more affordable for our students today.

Our system of higher education is the best in the world, and it’s critical to our country’s future that more low-income Americans have the opportunity to take advantage of it. That is why in 2013, I teamed up with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to write the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act and get it passed into law. This legislation now passes on the federal government’s low borrowing rates to college students.

Before our law, Congress was setting the student loan interest rate by statute, and quite frankly, students were getting a raw deal. But thanks to the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, if you’ve taken out a student loan in the last 3 years, you’ve saved money.

This law also caps the interest rate on undergraduate student loans, which can give students the peace of mind that they are getting the best deal possible. Student loan interest rates are cheaper, simpler and more dependable now that they are no longer subject to the political whims of Congress.

In May, it was announced that interest rates on student loans for this academic year dropped to 3.76 percent, down from a high, government-set rate of 6.8 percent in 2012. The rate on graduate and parent loans are also almost two percentage points less than they would have been without this law.

This decrease is the direct result of our legislation enabling students and their families to take advantage of today’s low interest rate environment. This law has saved students across the country $46 billion in just 3 years, and this most recent interest rate cut will save North Carolina students and families more than a billion dollars this year alone.

This is great news for North Carolina students and families, and it is proof that the law Senator Manchin and I wrote is already working to make college more affordable. Tying loan rates to the economy – not Congress – and capping them is a tangible way that I’m working to make higher education affordable, so that more low- and middle-income North Carolinians can realize their dream of attending college.

But there is still much more we can do.

We should cut down the burdensome Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form that students and their parents are forced to endure every year from 108 questions to just 2. This form is a known barrier to college entry, and it isn’t necessary.

Similarly, we should shrink the incredible paperwork burden that is currently imposed on our 6,000 colleges and universities. This burden is driving up the price of tuition.

And finally, we should simplify repayment options so that college graduates can refinance their student loans into payments that will never exceed 15 percent of their discretionary income. This would ensure that your monthly loan payment will never exceed what you can afford on your salary. This is exactly what I have proposed in my bipartisan Repay Act, and it has overwhelming support in the United States Senate.

The bottom line is that the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act is putting more money in students’ pockets, and it ensures that more students will be able to go to college. This law was a good start, and it is delivering tangible savings to students and graduates. But there’s more we can do to help students get a high-quality, affordable education. I will keep fighting for college affordability in the United States Senate, because when our students succeed, our nation succeeds.