WASHINGTON – With millions of students back in school, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., joined Campaign for America’s Future co-director Robert Borosage on a teleconference call today calling on Congress to reverse the raid on student aid and ensure that deserving students are not priced out of college.
Participants on the call released a series of state and national reports by the Campaign for America’s Future that show that according to new Census data the cost of attending a public, four-year college in America has increased 42 percent since President Bush took office, while median family income has fallen 2 percent. Still, the Congress cut $12 billion from federal student assistance and allowed interest rates on college loans to rise this year.
“The conservative ideology of shrinking essential government programs, privatization, corruption and cronyism has put college out of reach for many young Americans,” said Borosage. “Under their rule, conservatives have let the value of federal grants decline precipitously while allowing interest rates on student loans to rise sharply, pricing too many qualified students out of college.”
The new report finds that with tuition costs rising far faster than inflation, real wages still stagnating, federal assistance to students and parents shrinking and states cutting back institutional support, millions of students are foregoing college, dropping out or incurring serious debt. The full cost of college for one student for one year at a public university now consumes 25 percent of the median household income in America.
Sen. Kennedy emphasized the importance of college education in the competitive global economy.
“Parents know that a college education is the key to good jobs for their children,” said Sen. Kennedy, the senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Senate. “But today, more and more parents worry that their children will be denied that opportunity because they simply can’t afford a college degree. The American dream is at risk if we don’t act to make college more affordable for our families and give our students the tools they need to succeed.”
Sen. Kennedy has introduced the Student Aid Reward (STAR) to generate $13 billion in new Pell Grants for students over the next 10 years – at no cost to taxpayers – by encouraging schools to switch to the government’s less expensive loan program. He has also introduced the Student Debt Relief Act, which would increase the Pell Grant, cut student loan interest rates in half, and expand the income-contingent repayment program for student loans, so no borrower has to put more than 15 percent of their monthly income toward their loan payments.
Rep. Miller, who introduced the Reverse the Raid on Student Act to cut interest rates on college loans in half, outlined the Democrat’s plan to put America back on track in educating the next generation.
“Cutting college financial aid is clearly the wrong direction for our students and our economy at a time when we should be doing all we can to increase college attendance and strengthen our nation’s workforce. Democrats believe that investing in education and innovation is essential to ensuring a bright and successful economic future, and we are deeply committed to making college more affordable,” said Rep. Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “We need to go in a new direction that guarantees that no qualified student is ever prevented from going to college because the price is too high.”
As students try to cope with soaring college costs, the President and Congress have slashed federal assistance for higher education. In February, the Bush administration cut $12 billion from the federal student loan program, the largest cut to the program in history. Pell Grants have stagnated for four years, and the President’s current proposal before the House of Representatives fails to meaningfully raise the federal awards, putting the maximum Pell Grant at $800 less in constant dollars than it was 30 years ago.
The new report documenting the rising financial barriers to higher education includes a record of key college affordability votes along with a letter grade for each member of Congress based on their voting record. The report also documents campaign contributions made by student loan industry giants Sallie Mae and Nelnet to each member of Congress.
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**NOTE: Media representatives interested in a copy of the state-specific and national reports can obtain a copy at http://home.ourfuture.org/education/soaring-out-of-reach.html .**