Brief relief, long-term questions on student loans

“It makes political sense, but not economic sense,” Vedder said.

The price of college tuition has skyrocketed in recent decades. Between 1982 and 2007, tuition and fees increased 439 percent while the median family income rose 147 percent, according to a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The price of in-state tuition at a public university has increased by more than 5 percent annually in the past 10 years. It jumped 15 percent between 2008 and 2010 alone.

Cuts to state education budgets have played a significant role in increasing those costs, particularly in recent years. How much influence the expansion of access to federal aid has played is less certain; many insist it plays none. An analysis this year by the American Council on Education concluded there is no evidence to suggest it has, and that any relationship between the two is incidental, not causal.

What is certain is that with the price of tuition continuing to rise, pressure will remain on Congress to keep rates low.

“I think anybody in higher education, whether it’s people like me, college presidents, financial aid administrators, students, and parents, would really like some certainty and predictability,” said Terri Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs with the American Council on Education. “And that’s something we really haven’t had.”

Nebergall, 21, said she expects to owe $20,000 or more on her federal loans by the time she graduates, and about the same in private loans as well. While she and her long-term boyfriend would like to move in together when she finishes school, Nebergall doesn’t think they’ll be able to afford it. He pays about $250 a month in student loans himself.

She said a rate increase next year could have a big effect.

“It’s money I could put down on a security deposit on my own apartment,” she said. “It’s money I could be used to start my adult life.”