Fixed interest college loans now available through MEFA

Fixed-interest college loans will immediately become available to families through the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, the Patrick administration announced Tuesday.

“We are committed to ensuring students have options for continuing their education past high school,” Patrick said in a statement. “Through our continued partnership with MEFA, we are making a college education affordable and accessible for more Massachusetts students.”

With students and their families beginning to receive tuition bills for the fall semester, MEFA plans to offers loans at a fixed interest rate of 6.89 percent, lower than the 7.9 percent interest rate attached to family loans through the Federal PLUS program. “As we continue our work to ensure all students are prepared academically for the challenges of college, we must also maintain our efforts to ensure they are able financially to access higher education,” Education Secretary Paul Reville said in a statement. “Governor Patrick has worked tirelessly to protect financial aid for students in the state budget and now we are fortunate to have this level of support for our partners at MEFA.”

Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez labeled a $70 million cut to higher education in the fiscal 2012 budget signed by Patrick on Monday one of the largest single reductions in year-to-year spending, and said the governor had tasked him and Reville to work together over the next year to identify strategies to improve funding for public higher education to keep college affordable to all students.

Trustees at the University of Massachusetts voted in June to approve a 7.5 percent increase in student fees for the next academic year, raising the average cost of attending one of the system’s five campuses by $826 a year. UMass plans to spend 29 percent of the estimated $26 million in new revenue on financial aid.