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Western Pennsylvania students fear higher payments for school loans

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

Josh Mitchell knows that even with a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Pittsburgh this fall, he'll need student loans to pay for college.

The thought of seeing the interest rate on those loans double before classes even begin did not sit well with the incoming freshman from Ridgway in Elk County.

“That's unbelievable. It's just not right,” Mitchell, 18, said on Tuesday while attending orientation at the Pitt campus in Oakland, where he plans to study nursing.

“College needs to be affordable, so it's not right to be making kids pay more for their eduction,” he said.

Unless Congress acts by July 1, the interest rate on government-subsidized loans will rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The Senate last week failed to pass two bills — one offered by Democrats, the other by the GOP — to deal with the impending interest-rate hike. The increase would apply only to new student loans through the Stafford program, which defers repayment while students are in school.

The rate increase would cause students to rack up $1,000 more a year in debt, according to President Obama, who is urging Congress to temporarily extend the current rate until lawmakers reach a solution.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said he's confident they'll find that solution.

“I have no doubt that what I believe is bipartisan concern about student loan interest rates, plus a deadline, will help focus the attention of people in Washington to get a compromise,” Casey said.

The higher rates would affect about 400,000 Pennsylvania students and hurt the U.S. economy, he said.

“There's no way to envision where we're competitive in a world economy if we don't make college tuition more affordable for families,” he said, adding that college costs have increased “probably faster than anything else in our economy.”

The prospect of paying more for her student loan will not alter Bridget Csongradi's plans to study engineering at Pitt, though it is a worry.

“Being able to pay back my student loans is a concern, whether the rate goes up or not,” said Csongradi, 18, of Audubon in Montgomery County. “Having a higher rate just adds to that concern.”Emily McBurney said she probably will not need a loan to cover tuition at Community College of Allegheny County in the North Side, where she enrolled in the nursing program, but she will have to borrow when she transfers to a four-year school.

“It's crazy that the loan rate might go up, because they're already too high,” said McBurney, 19, of Brighton Heights. “And I already don't have any money.”

Incoming Pitt engineering student Chris Potts, 18, of Reading said having to pay more for student loans “makes me feel that I'll have to work that much harder and be even more focused on what I'm doing so I'm not wasting my time and money.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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