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The author mentions interest rates primarily in order to
The passage does not discuss the benefits of student loans, but rather lists student loans as one of three current financing models.
In this paragraph, the author does not take sides on the debate which system of financing is fairer: the current system based on general taxation or the proposed system of a graduate tax.
The passage explains that undergraduate studies are currently subsidized by society. It then goes on to list three forms of societal subsidies, of which student loans and deferred fee payments are the third. It mentions subsidized interest rates as the mechanism through which this form is supported by society.
The passage lists deferred fee payments and students loans as two variations of the same financing model, not as competing models.
While the first paragraph goes on to question the equitability of all three models in the last two sentences of the first paragraph, interest rates are not mentioned in the second sentence for this purpose, but rather as the mechanism through which one of the current models works.