Justin Kuemerle, a Wright State University student, relies on federal student loans to help pay for school. He recently told me that without Stafford Loans, he would have to forgo college.

Justin is one of more than 382,000 students in Ohio – including some 46,959 in Hamilton County – who are able to attend college with the help of Stafford Loans. Stafford Loans – low-interest loans for low-to moderate-income students, provided by the U.S. Department of Education – assist undergraduate and graduate students who could not otherwise afford college.

But, unless Congress acts soon, on July 1st the interest rates on these vital student loans will double for Justin and nearly 8 million U.S. undergraduate students nationwide.

That could mean an increase of about $1,000 in interest payments for borrowers simply because Congress refuses to take action and stop the Stafford Loan rate hike.

Ohio college students can already expect to graduate with about $27,000 in student loan debt. A recent report shows that student loan debt nationwide has reached about $870 billion, which exceeds debt on credit cards and auto loans.

Allowing Stafford Loan interest rates to increase will hinder Ohio students’ ability to afford college – and hurt America’s economic competitiveness.

That’s why I recently introduced the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act, which would prevent college from becoming even more expensive. This legislation would help Ohio students by maintaining the current interest rates for subsidized Stafford student loans at 3.4 percent.

It is in all of our best interests to ensure that higher education is affordable and accessible to qualified students. Educational attainment has long been a great equalizer – helping families enter the middle class. It’s clear that we need to do more to educate young people for the jobs of the 21st century and connect them with businesses that are searching for skilled workers.

The last thing we should be doing is adding to Ohio students’ already-heavy debt load.

And as more and more students continue to enroll in higher education, debt balances are expected to continue climbing. Students burdened by excessive debt are less likely to start a business, buy a home, or continue on to graduate school.

My legislation would help ensure that more middle-class Ohioans can achieve their dream of going to college. Ohio students – many of them already working while attending class – should not be required to mortgage their future or delay their opportunities for a better life because of student loan debt.

The ability to pay for higher education is essential, as many middle-class jobs in Ohio and throughout the country require training past high school. And higher education leads to higher earnings over a lifetime.

Whether it’s a career center or private liberal arts school, two-year college or flagship university, students should not be forced to forego college because Congress refused to do its work.

That’s why I will continue to fight until Congress acts. The future of Ohio students – and our nation – depends on it.