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Student loan certainty for students, families

As another summer winds down, thousands of Kansas high school graduates will leave home and head to college for the first time -- and many families are wondering how they will pay for it. They understand the worthy investment comes at a significant cost. From working a second job, to living at home, students and parents seem more willing than ever to make sacrifices for the sake of higher education -- including taking out federal loans to help cover the costs.

According to the College Board, nearly 50 percent of the 18.1 million undergraduate students who attend college each year take out federal Stafford loans to help make college dreams a reality. And approximately 1.6 million graduate students also take out Stafford loans to pay for their educations. Subsidized Stafford loans are federal loans for students with the greatest financial need.

Kansans already making great sacrifices for the sake of a college education recently faced much uncertainty when, on July 1, interest rates for new subsidized Stafford loans doubled to 6.8 percent. Last year, Congress passed legislation to prevent this rate hike, but it was only a temporary, one-year patch. Washington needed to work together to pass a student loan policy that provided all American students and families with certainty.

Fortunately, after months of negotiations this summer, the House and Senate finally were able to put politics aside and come together to pass bipartisan legislation that provides a permanent, market-based solution for all federal student loan interest rates.

I supported this legislation to reverse the July 1 rate hike on subsidized Stafford loans, and set interest rates on all new student loans off of the Treasury 10-year borrowing rate. This legislation also provides much-needed certainty and savings by fixing the rate borrowers pay at the time they take out their loan. In contrast to current law, it lowers rates for all students taking out new federal student loans.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects this legislation will save Americans more than $700 million over the next decade -- good news for students, parents and taxpayers alike. It is critically important this bill is signed into law by the President before students return to campus in a few short weeks.

Covering the increasing costs of higher education is just one of the challenges Kansas students face today. Unfortunately, our current economic environment leaves recent graduates with limited job opportunities to earn enough to pay off college-related debt. According to a 2013 Reuters survey, 40 percent of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed. And, a recent study by the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity notes roughly half of college graduates are working jobs that traditionally don't require a college degree. By accepting lower-skilled positions and receiving the wages tied to those positions, they simply can't afford to pay off their student loans.

Washington must now turn its attention toward fixing the failing economic policies that are hampering growth in America, to make certain graduates can find jobs. The bipartisan student loan agreement proves that even though Congress might not agree on everything, it is capable of working together to pass sensible policy.

If Washington fails to take action now because it is too difficult, and leaves it for a future Congress to solve, we will reduce the opportunities for the next generation to experience the country we know and love.

As a first-generation college graduate, only through student loans, scholarships and work was I was able to afford college. I want to make certain every Kansan has the opportunity to pursue their goals through higher education, but efforts must not stop there.

The most essential thing we can offer our children is a vibrant, growing and free economy that provides ample opportunity to pursue success and happiness every day.

Sen. Jerry Moran is a Republican representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate.