Affordability Act may ease the cost of college
February 21, 2008 9:48 AM
If Congress has its way, billions of dollars in spending may be authorized to lower the cost of college, to stimulate the nation’s higher education system and to help protect students from unethical business practices between schools and private loan lenders.
The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 7, addresses rising tuition costs and student access to materials, provides funding for new grants and gives incentives for schools to lower the costs of tuition, supporters say.
“This legislation reforms our higher education system from the perspective of students and families—creating a more transparent, consumer-friendly, fair and easy-to-navigate system,” said Rachel Racusen, deputy communications director of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
The bill, named H.R.4137, was sponsored by committee chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., in the House by a vote of 354 to 58. The U.S. Senate passed its own version of the bill in July. The next step is to conference the two bills to produce a final piece of legislation to send to the president's desk, according to Racusen.
BILL GAINS CSU SEAL OF APPROVAL
The CSU leader was happy to see that the bill designates additional funding for various programs to help veterans, their families, minority students and predominantly minority-serving institutions.
The draft includes an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award and allows grants to be given year-round, one of CSU's "highest priorities," according to George Conant, legislative director of the CSU Office of Federal Relations. In recent years, the CSU has strived to offer classes all year round in an effort to speed up graduation rates.
“Everything we wanted is in the bill. We are very happy with it,” Conant said.
But the White House is not as happy as the CSU and is opposed to the bill.
“It would restrict the Department of Education's authority to regulate on accreditation," according to a White House statement. It would also "create nearly four dozen new, costly, and duplicative federal programs, condition receipt of federal grant funding on tuition price, and restrict the department's ability to evaluate and effectively manage Upward Bound and other TRIO programs [which help low-income and disadvantaged students].”
ADDRESSING FINANCIAL AID
By the new regulations, universities will not be allowed to endorse a certain private loan, nor give lenders the right to use the institution's name or image in their marketing. It strengthens other rules already in place to say that school employees in financial aid offices will not be allowed to receive gifts, payments from lenders for services or enter into revenue-sharing agreements.
"This has not been a factor at SF State," said Director of Financial Aid Barbara Hubler. "We don’t have those relationships with lenders."
“It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this, but lenders and school officials took advantage," she said. "It’s for the students. They don’t need to be caught in the middle of a competition. Student loans have been very lucrative for private lenders and there was a potential for abuse."
STIMULATING AMERICAN WORKFORCE
To stimulate the future American workforce, a portion of the bill is designed to promote access to a range of careers and programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The bill also provides grants for post-graduate programs in over a dozen fields also aimed at strengthening the workforce and improving access for students entering those fields.
A large portion of funding and grants are designated for a “Teach for America” program, aimed at bringing college graduates into teaching careers, and includes programs for “loan forgiveness for service in areas of national need.”
THE COLLEGE INFORMATION HUB
A national “Enhanced College Navigator” Web site is to be developed to provide easy access to information about colleges and universities by consolidating the multitude of statistics, demographics and other information often already provided by colleges and universities, along with a comprehensive “easy to understand” section on financial aid options.
Annual surveys, reports and publications are planned to be available on the Web site, providing information about fluctuating tuition costs, a “price increase watch list," safety statistics, and university reports from the various programs designated in the bill.
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