Earlier this month, the Ventura County Star said in an editorial, “We hope everyone will recognize the urgency of reaching a bipartisan agreement to stave off the sharply higher interest rates that are set to take effect in July.”

I couldn’t agree more.

A college education should not be an opportunity for the fortunate few, but for all. We know for a fact that a college education helps an individual better provide for his or her family, become a leader in our community, and strengthen our economy through innovation.

But with college tuition skyrocketing across the country, the doors of opportunity are closing on more and more of today’s students at an alarming rate. Just in the last decade, tuition rates at four-year colleges and universities have risen 32 percent. This is driving many young Americans to assume historically high levels of student debt or forego college altogether.

The situation is so dire, student loan debt now exceeds $1.1 trillion and the Federal Reserve has found that student debt now surpasses auto loan, credit card and home equity debt combined.

Not only is this crisis dragging on our economy but it is an unsustainable burden on graduates, their families and their communities.

The problem will only get worse if Congress does not act soon. In just eight days, millions of students across the United States will see their student loan interest rates double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. This will increase costs for Ventura County students as well as more than 7 million students across the country, unless Washington takes action.

Unfortunately, last month instead of helping students and middle-class families better afford a college education, House Republicans passed legislation that would make a college education even more expensive. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican student loan plan will pile on nearly $4 billion more in student loan interest charges over the next several years.

Additionally, the Republican solution takes our current fixed student loan rates and makes them variable. This makes loan payments wildly unpredictable, unfair and expensive for students and their families.

With the job market still recovering, we should not be asking students with the greatest need to be burdened by higher costs and greater instability. I opposed this legislation because it is exactly the wrong solution for the nation’s students and their families.

Making college more affordable for middle-class families is the key to fostering America’s economic competitiveness. Business leaders know that a college education is vital to creating the leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators of the future.

To ensure we keep our economy’s future competitive, we must work in Congress to provide our students with the ability to acquire the quality education and training they need today so they can fill the 21st century jobs of tomorrow.

I was elected to Congress on the premise that we must eliminate partisan gridlock by rolling up our sleeves to tackle our nation’s most pressing problems. I refuse to sit on the sidelines while the cost of higher education goes up unnecessarily. Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to help students and their families.

It is with this in mind that I call on my colleagues to come together to stop this rate hike for our current students and to ensure affordable financial aid opportunities are available to our future students.

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