On July 1 graduate and professional students will no longer be eligible for federally subsidized Stafford loans. But while the concurrent doubling of the interest rate on undergraduate subsidized Stafford loans (from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent) has garnered Congressional and media attention, almost no cries have been raised to protect the financial security of graduate students across the nation. (They'll still qualify for unsubsidized loans, but remember that grad credits cost more than undergrad ones.)
These cuts to subsidized aid are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was designed in a Congressional compromise attempting to avoid increasing the national debt. But cuts to this form of investment might surprise those who know that banks pay only 0.15 percent interest rates. What's more, eliminating subsidies for graduate students will save just $21 billion over the next nine years — the same amount currently spent on active military engagements in just seven weeks, according to the US Department of Defense.
Preserving this help for those getting advanced degrees and training would cost just five and a half days' worth of military funding. President Barack Obama has taken up the mantle of defending college affordability, saying recently "We want all of you [students] to work and hustle and study your tails off and achieve your dreams . . . America is not just about protecting a few people who are doing well. America is about giving everybody a chance to do well. That's what makes us strong." But as national student-loan debt recently passed $1 trillion, secondary education isn't getting any easier to pay for — and post-secondary aid might end up getting tossed off the table.
"If you could afford to fund the education, you wouldn't need to take out the loan," Scott Delcourt, associate dean of UMaine's graduate school told the University of Maine at Orono's newspaper, the Maine Campus.
On May 8, the Senate voted against stopping the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012. Maine's senators failed to step up to the plate when it came to preserving the reduced interest rate on undergraduate loans. Senator Susan Collins voted against stopping the interest hike, and Senator Olympia Snowe, perhaps because her husband has been involved in the student-loan industry, was the only US Senator to vote "present" rather than "yea" or "nay." Two other Republican senators did not vote at all.
Even more than a college education, advanced degrees are key to society's economic development and individual success. The Maine Department of Labor says the number of jobs requiring at least a master's degree is expected to grow 7 percent between 2008 and 2018, more than twice the 3-percent growth rate for jobs needing just a bachelor's degree. (Jobs needing no post-high-school education will grow just 1 percent.) And already, 68 percent of jobs classified by the department as high-wage, in-demand positions require a college degree or higher.
Economics aside, the benefits of education are undeniable. According to a 2007 study by the non-profit College Board, as a person's level of education increases so does their quality of life and that of the communities they live in. Higher education leads not only to higher salaries, but also to increased availability of employer-sponsored health benefits and pension plans, higher rates of volunteering, voting, and blood donating, and an increased tolerance for the opinions of others. Sounds like the way life should be.