School of Education senior Adam Gaspar will save a lot of money next year by consolidating his student loans if a bill passed yesterday by the House of Representatives becomes law.

The Democratic-led House voted 356-71 in favor of a bill that would halve the interest rates on subsidized student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent.

“I consolidated my loans last summer to avoid the raise in interest rates,” Gaspar said. “It would be huge for me to get an even lower rate next year.”

Although clearly popular, the legislation sparked a debate over where to set the nation’s education priorities – helping college graduates pay off their debts or expanding federal grants for low-income students.

Democrats conceded that Congress needs to do more to make college more affordable. But they said reducing student loan rates was a significant step toward tuition relief.

“This much-needed legislation will make college more affordable and accessible,” Rep. John Dingell said in a speech on the House floor. Dingell, whose district includes Ann Arbor, voted for the measure.

LSA sophomore Asman Butt said the cuts were a nice gesture but not enough.

“Cutting the rate in half seems nice, but we still need to be doing a lot more,” Butt said.

It is not yet certain that the interest rate cuts will become law.

The Bush administration opposes the bill and Senate Democrats plan to introduce a more comprehensive bill that could complicate its prospects.

The interest rate reductions will be phased in over five years at a cost of $6 billion. About 5.5 million students get the loans each year.

– Jessica Vosgerchian and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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