Gillibrand urges Obama to refinance student loans

President Barack Obama mentioned student loan assistance as he delivered his State of the Union address last night, making it part of his political agenda for 2014.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand has an agenda of her own – pressuring the president on that issue.

Gillibrand met with New York City students and graduates Sunday, as part of a renewed push to highlight the issue of student loan debt. Her goal is to pass new legislation allowing college students to refinance federal student loans.

“More city graduates and middle class families are burdened by student loans than ever before and are struggling to repay a higher amount of debt than ever before,” Gillibrand wrote in a press release. “I urge President Obama to make refinancing student loans a top priority.”

Student loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion, overtaking auto loan and credit card debt. New York college graduates have average student debt burdens of around $27,000.

In New York, nearly 11 percent of graduates defaulted on their student loans between 2009 and 2012. Nationally, almost 12 percent of all student debt was delinquent by the end of last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Gillibrand has proposed legislation known as the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act. She said the act would allow qualifying students with an interest rate more than 4 percent to refinance their federal student loans to a fixed interest rate of 4 percent.

“Our young people should be able to refinance in the same way that our businesses and homeowners do,” Gillibrand wrote. “We must strengthen our middle class families instead of forcing New Yorkers deeper into debt.”

Dan Lake, assistant professor of political science at SUNY Plattsburgh, said he generally agrees with Gillibrand that student loan rates are too high at the moment.

He added that Gillibrand’s biggest problem may not be getting Obama to agree on the matter but getting Republicans to.

“You run into the problem were you will get knee-jerk opposition to anything the president wants to do,” he said.

North Country student debt

Locally, Paul Smiths College’s average student debt for 2012 graduates is $16,175. The proportion of graduates with debt in 2012 is 91 percent. Almost all the college’s students recieve some kind of financial aid.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s average student debt for 2012 graduates was $25,297. The proportion of graduates with debt in 2012 is 70 percent.

Colgate University’s average student debt for 2012 graduates is $20,751. The proportion of graduates with debt in 2012 is 34 percent.

Student debt totals were provided by The Project on Student Debt.