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U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis Speaks with University and Community College Students in Arizona about Student Loans
PHOENIX - As Congress debates whether or not to hike interest rates on student loans, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis held a roundtable conversation at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus on higher education and workforce readiness with students attending universities and community colleges in the Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff areas.
The conversation included challenges facing students such as prospective employment after graduation, student debt load, workforce challenges and what students need to be successful.
If Congress fails to act, on July 1, 2012, student loan interest rates will double for almost 8 million students, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Without a new plan, students could pay on average $2,800 more on their subsidized Stafford student loans than they otherwise would. Students with the most need will pay an additional $5,000.
“Nearly half of Arizona’s college students carry over $18,000 in debt upon graduation, on average,” said Serena Unrein, public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). “Congress should reward, not penalize, individuals seeking to gain new skills and needing financial aid to get them.”
Arizona PIRG and the Arizona Students’ Association, the two groups organizing the event, said that federal programs designed to help individuals on their career pathway aren’t as aligned as they should be.
According to the groups, employers consistently cite the lack of an educated workforce as a major barrier to hiring. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 3.5 million job openings in the country, even as the pool of potential applicants is huge -- 12.7 million Americans are officially unemployed. Half of all of the fastest growing occupations in the country require an associate’s degree or higher.
“Keeping the interest rate low on student loans sends the signal to students, workers, and the unemployed to get the postsecondary training necessary to adapt to new economic realities,” said Danielle Bryant, a political science sophomore from Northern Arizona University.
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