"The biggest change is the banks," she says. Banks were heavily involved in making subsidized federal loans at the time, but that ended in 2010, when Congress passed a bill making the federal government the primary loan distributor. Lindstrom characterizes the 6.8 percent rate as a compromise – "essentially as good as we could get," she says.
"We were working very hard to thwart higher rates – an initiative for higher rates that the banks were undertaking at the time," she adds.
The U.S. Student Association also pushed for the 6.8 percent rate, which it also fought against this time around. While the 2001 leadership of the student-run organization is no longer in place, the group now says that avoiding higher rates is a matter of helping students plagued by debt amid a slow recovery.
"Right now we have an affordability crisis, we have a student debt crisis, and that is something that will not help students," says Sophia Zaman, vice president of USSA.
Student debt levels are rising quickly. According to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, student loan debt stands at nearly $1 trillion, with average debt balances at nearly $25,000. Delinquencies on student debt have also surged past those on other types of debt.
U.S. PIRG and USSA are only two of many groups whose views on rates have shifted over the years, but they are indicative of the way political and economic context alike can alter what looks like the "right" rate for students to be paying.
The various bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate have proposed a mix of solutions: variable rates and fixed rates, capped and uncapped, short- and long-term plans. Members could still agree to a fix once they come back from the July 4 break, meaning that while higher rates are worrisome, it may not yet be time to panic.
One more reason not to panic, says Delisle: the difference in monthly payments between a 3.4 percent and a 6.8 percent interest rate is not likely to make or break most graduates. Last year, before Congress extended the 3.4 percent rate, he calculated that the difference would only be around $9 per month on a $5,550 Stafford loan.
He also adds that government programs that cap payments can mean the current fight might not even change monthly payments for some borrowers.
"Borrowers who qualify for these loans coming up can have their loan payments capped as a percentage of their income. So then it really doesn't matter," he says.