The Maneater

Graduate Professional Council gives students opportunity to share student loan stories with Missouri senators

By having students share their stories, GPC hopes to spread awareness about student loans.

The Graduate Professional Council ran a booth in the MU Student Center on March 1 that allowed students to call Missouri senators regarding student loans.

Student loans are not subsidized, which means they accrue interest while the student is in school. Mike Hendricks, GPC director of state affairs, said graduate student loans also have higher interest rates than undergraduate student loans.

“The government is making most of its student loan profits off of graduate and professional students,” Hendricks said. “Graduate and professional students have higher interest rates on their loans and are not subsidized. Graduate students are only 13 percent of the borrowing population while the government receives 77 percent of its student loan profits from graduate and professional students. GPC and [the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students] have been working on several initiatives to equalize the undergraduate loans with graduate and professional student loans.”

Rachel Owen, GPC director of national affairs, said there were two things GPC was trying to accomplish by having students call Missouri senators: spread awareness and empower students.

“We are trying to make sure that students are aware of the changes senators and representatives are proposing to make with student loans and the repayment programs in Washington,” Owen said. “So awareness is our number one goal.”

By motivating students to make phone calls, Owen said senators and representatives in Washington will hear personal stories from the students about their loans.

“If the students are not telling their stories, then there are not a lot of other people who are,” Owen said. “We are trying to empower students to be able to make their voices heard.”

This push for student empowerment and awareness stems from the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

HEA is legislation in Washington that sets policies for student loans, student loan repayment plans and campus safety, Owen said.

In order for the government to make decisions on HEA, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions requested stories and statements about policy reformations. The GPC and the Office of Graduate Studies worked together to develop a statement that will be passed on to the committee.

The statement calls for the establishment of “procedures that support master’s, doctoral and professional students in making informed financial aid decisions to reduce their borrowing and debt.”

The unequal student loan interest rate, in addition to the longer time spent in school beyond undergraduate education, makes life after graduation harder for graduate students.

“When graduate and professional students graduate, due to the debt from their loans, it makes it harder for them to buy a house, a car or pursue other big financial decisions because they are in so much debt,” Hendricks said.

Kristofferson Culmer, director of external affairs for NAGPS, said the cap on student loan interest rates for graduate students is 9.5 percent, while the cap for undergraduates is 8.25 percent.

Culmer compared the home loan interest rate, which is between 3-4 percent right now, to the interest rates for graduate students, which he said is currently at 5.5 percent.

“We would just like to see education loans at the same interest rate,” Culmer said. “The government can still make their money back in this way at a much lower rate.”

Owen and some members of GPC will be traveling to Washington this week to talk to Missouri senators and representatives about the statement.

Further plans for the GPC include enacting a larger campaign on campus to raise awareness among students in regard to what is happening with the HEA and undergraduate and graduate loans.

Edited by Skyler Rossi | srossi@themaneater.com

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