Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Higher Education Access Act now before the Senate.
This bill makes extraordinary progress on one of the most critical challenges before this Congress: making college affordable for all our nation’s children.
In 1965, Congress passed the Higher Education Act as part of a commitment to with our children and our future: if you work hard and graduate from high school, you can go to college, regardless of your family’s means or background, and work towards the American Dream.
Millions of students have gained access to higher education because of the financial assistance programs, including Pell Grants, this historic legislation created.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, over the last twenty years Congress has failed to hold up its side of the bargain.
During that time, t
he cost of college has more than tripled.
Meanwhile, the buying power of the Pell grant has diminished dramatically.
Twenty years ago, the maximum Pell grant
covered 55 percent of the cost of attending a public four-year college. Today, it covers less than one third of
The effects of this disparity are devastating.
ch year, more than
400,000 talented, qualified, hopeful students cannot attend a four-year college because, Mr. President, they cannot afford
When I was a young man, such a person might have other viable options for making a decent wage and pursuing a fulfilling career.
60 percent of new jobs require some post-secondary education, compared to just 15 percent of new jobs when I was a student.
Those students who do go on to college now are becoming more and more dependent on private loans with high interest rates to finance their education.
Just 15 years ago, fewer than half of all students took out loans to finance their education.
That number must seem incredible to today’s students and parents struggling to finance a college education because today, Mr. President, more than two-thirds of students borrow for college.
average student leaves college with more than $19,000 in student loan debt.
The growing barriers to higher education also have a profound effect on our national economy.
We do not have enough highly skilled workers in this country.
We recruit overseas to find engineers, computer programmers, and scientists.
Nor can we fill essential social service positions.
More and more students avoid critically important career paths such as teaching, nursing, social work, and law enforcement.
These are some of the most important professions in our country.
I am especially troubled by this nation’s shortage of highly qualified teachers teaching in rural or high poverty areas.
The schools in these areas are most in need of experienced educators, but they simply do not have the resources to attract and retain the best teachers.
To help give our schools the tools they need to prepare our students to succeed, Senator Snowe and I introduced S. 1282, the “Master Teacher Act of 2007,” which has been referred to the Finance Committee.
Our legislation would reward “master teachers” – those highly qualified teachers with at least five years teaching experience – with a 25 percent federal tax exemption on their salary for four years if they agree to teach in a school that is not meeting its Annual Yearly Progress targets as laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Mr. President, as a member of the Budget Committee, I worked hard with my colleagues to make more money available for grant aid.
We allocated $9.2 billion for education and training over and above the President’s budget request to be invested, in part, in Pell grants.
We believe such an investment will make college more affordable so that all eligible students can gain the knowledge, skills, and experience they need to succeed, and to ensure that employers have the workforce they need to compete in a fiercely competitive, global marketplace.
The important legislation we are considering today takes essential steps to reverse our current course.
This bi-partisan bill provides $17 billion in additional college aid to students – the biggest increase since the G.I. Bill.
increases access to higher education for
low-income students by raising the maximum Pell Grant from $4,310 to $5,100 next year and increasing it to $5,400 by 2011.
The bill also increases the income level at which a student is automatically eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, thus making more financially-strapped students eligible for aid.
by capping monthly loan payments at 15 percent of discretionary income.
protects working students by increasing the amount of student income that is sheltered from the financial aid process so students aren’t penalized when they take jobs to help pay for school.
encourages public service by providing loan forgiveness for public service employees.
holds colleges accountable for rising costs by publicizing colleges whose cost increases outstrip those of their peers.
This bill accomplishes these important steps toward renewing our commitment to our nation’s children by reducing government subsidies to for-profit lenders by just one-half of one percentage point, and by about one-third of one percentage point for non-profit lenders. That leaves lenders with a government guaranteed interest rate that’s still provides a fair market rate.
What does the Higher Education Access Act mean for families in my home State of Maryland?
Nearly $32 million in new grant aid next year and $273 million in new grant aid over the next five years.
Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities can expect an estimated increase in need-based grant aid of nearly $5 million next year, and nearly $40 million over the next five years.
More Marylanders will be able to attend college, and they will less debt when they graduate.
Should they choose to enter public service, such as teaching or social work, this bill would cap their monthly payments at 15 percent of their monthly income saving them hundreds of dollars a year.
Hundreds of dollars makes an enormous difference to a young person looking to establish themselves in the world.
And if that young person stays in that job for 10 years, the federal government would cancel their debt balance in return for their service.
This is how our country should be investing its money, opening the door to our children’s dreams, for their benefit, our communities’ benefit, and or national economy’s benefit.
I am proud that this Congress realizes that increasing access to post-secondary education serves both as a gateway to the American Dream for our nation’s students and a pathway to our economic success and security as a nation.