Students purchasing loans for the 2013-2014 school year will do so under a new rate-determining system that fixes rates to U.S. Treasury notes and caps them at a certain percentage, saving Louisiana students money but possibly facing them with higher rates in the future.
The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 reduces undergraduate Stafford loan interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.86 percent for loans taken out after July 1, capping future rates at 8.25 percent. But as the Congressional Budget Office projects a decrease in the federal deficit in its 2013-2023 projections, thus making the economy more attractive to investors, those rates look poised to hit the ceiling.
“(Treasury notes are) just like any other market,” explained economics professor Anthony Greco, Ph.D. “It’s similar to the stock market. There’s a lot of buyers and sellers that participate every day, and despite our country’s problems, we’re still a very attractive place to invest.”
The bipartisan agreement received overwhelming support from Louisiana politicians, passing the House of Representatives 392-31 on July 31, with all Louisiana representatives — including Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette — voting in favor of the bill but for Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans. It passed through the U.S. Senate 81-18 on July 24, with both Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter voting in favor.
More than 100,000 Louisiana students borrowed more than $665 million for the 2013-2014 school year at an average of $6,580 per borrower, according to a chart released by the White House. These students look to save an average of $1,471.
Graduate students will now pay 5.41 percent in interest but no more than 9.5 percent. Direct PLUS loans have dropped to 6.41 percent and are capped at 10.5 percent. All loan rates are also now fixed for the life of the loan.
Psychology senior John Enejosa, 23, has taken loans to pay for most of his college career — but only because his service with the U.S. Army National Guard allots educational funding that will repay them once he graduates.
“I’ve got the resources. Why not use them?” Enejosa said, noting he probably wouldn’t have borrowed if it weren’t for that assistance.
“I’ll do anything to not have any kind of loan to repay when I graduate,” said 25-year-old Lyndsey Gallet of Milton, a former accounting student who left for health reasons but has plans to return in 2014. She’s working full time until then and applying for PELL grants to avoid borrowing money.
According to UL Lafayette’s Office of Institutional Research, which did not provide student loan data, 85 percent of students in 2011-2012 received federal grants or scholarships.
Although UL is the most affordable university in Louisiana and is listed among the top 10 percent of most affordable universities nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency List, tuition continues to increase as the university’s funding decreases.
“The university’s budget model has essentially changed from primarily state funding to a majority of self-generated revenue,” wrote President E. Joseph Savoie, Ed.D., last summer, noting state-supported funds have dwindled to cover only 44 percent of the university’s budget.
Because of this, students are experiencing a 10-percent increase in tuition beginning this semester.
New fees have also been imposed this year, including the Master Plan Advancement fee, which charges students up to $112.50 — $7.50 per credit hour for up to 15 hours — to fund improvements to the university. Another bill signed into law this summer, which allows universities to impose a building maintenance fee up to $48, was implemented in the spring, increasing the fee from $10.
Additional language in Act 426 allows for “proportional tuition and fee increases for part-time students and for summer sessions,” although the university’s communications and marketing department said no increases were made.
Full-time students examining their statement of account via ULink will see more than $900 in fees added to their general tuition costs, which include fees for utilities, student health services and general operations, along with several auxiliary fees that fund, for example, cheerleaders, the Paul and Lulu University Art Museum and even The Vermilion.