A major overhaul of federal student loan programs could force students and families to pay thousands of more dollars for their education in the future.
"It's a very bad thing for students who are already struggling to pay for loans and college," said Josh Bender, a Kansas University student and legislative director for the Student Senate.
The changes are part of a budget reconciliation measure covering dozens of programs that is moving through Congress. The U.S. Senate on Thursday narrowly approved a bill with a 52-47 vote. Also on Thursday, the House Budget Committee passed a $54 billion deficit reduction bill by a party-line vote.
An estimated 11,000 KU students, including those on KU's Edwards Campus, would be affected, according to KU's Student Financial Aid Office.
The plan would raise student loan interest rates and fees. Starting next year, it could add more than $5,000 to the cost of getting an undergraduate degree, according to the United States Student Assn.
The interest rate parents pay for the so-called Federal PLUS loan is 6.1 percent. The Senate plan, for example, calls for raising that to 8.5 percent.
Bender said KU students have written hundreds of letters to politicians and tried to spread awareness of the issue.
"There's a lot of things that are going to hurt students in the long run with this," Bender said.
The Senate bill, which includes cuts to several so-called mandatory programs, could trim more than $30 billion from budget deficits of $1.6 trillion over five years.
Republicans said the debate marked an important moment for their party, which gained control of Congress 11 years ago with promises to balance the budget.
The House bill, which also includes the hotly debated provision for Arctic oil drilling, may be reworked before a final floor vote next week.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat whose 3rd District covers parts of eastern Lawrence, said the proposals shortchanged young people.
Moore said the cuts, including slashes in Medicaid, were needed to offset the costs of a pending $70 billion tax cut and Hurricane Katrina relief.
"To me, it's just wrong when we try to pay for tax cuts and catastrophes like Katrina by cutting back on the people who need it the most," he said.
According to a report by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute, the government creates "savings" - in both the House and Senate proposals - through collecting more money from students, parents, and lenders. The report said changes to the federal student loan program were the single largest source of "savings" in the budget reconciliation process.
Chris Cardinal, a KU senior and head of the Kansas Public Interest Research Group, said he has federal loans. If the changes are made, Cardinal said he wouldn't be able to give back to the economy and the community what he otherwise could when he graduated.
"The federal government is supposed to be here to help us and put education as a higher priority than some of the other things that are going on," he said.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.