Supported by a strong majority of its members, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction Act on September 7th.
The bill now awaits President Bush’s approval. He has pledged to sign the act into law in the near future, but the date has not yet been set.
The Act, introduced June 12 to the House of Representatives by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), proposed nearly $20 billion in funding for Pell Grants and other reform programs designed to lower student loan debt. $465 million of such funding would go to Colorado colleges.
The measure was approved by a vast majority in both the House (292-97) and Senate (78-18), Colorado representatives were split on the issue.Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) was a staunch supporter of the act.
“Federal student aid programs gave me the chance I needed to achieve success. I believe we should provide all Americans with that same opportunity,” Salazar said in the statement.
Fellow Colorado Democrats, such as Diana DeGette, Mark Udall, John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter, also supported the bill.
Republican Colorado congressmen did not support the bill.
Sen. Wayne Allard, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Rep. Doug Lamborn and Rep. Tom Tancredo voted against the bill, siding with outspoken critics of the bill, who claimed it was to a threat to higher education independence from the federal government.
In an e-mail from Tancredo spokesman T.Q. Houlton, Tancredo’s reasons for opposition reflected such beliefs.
“Congressman Tancredo believes the goal of Congress should be to reduce federal interference in education rather than increase it,” Houlton wrote.
Meanwhile, student leaders are praising the bill’s passage.
“It gives greater access to higher education, essentially for low-income students,” said Luke Ragland, director of Legislative Affairs of ASCSU. “I think that’s something that’s really important in Colorado; we have one of the greatest disparities between the richest counties and the poorest counties compared to other states.”
Ragland mentioned the income gap between the neighboring Douglas and Jefferson Counties as a prime example.
He also pointed out the notable difference between the average student loan debt students carried upon graduation at various universities.
Loan debt at CSU averages at $17,000, while University of Colorado students average $17,141, according to University of Colorado’s Office of Planning, Budget, and Analysis assistant director Annie Thayer.
The gap occurs when such schools are compared to CSU-Pueblo.
Students there, who generally pay lower tuition fees than CU or CSU, averaged an upon-graduation loan debt of $20,000.
Ragland said this particular disparity occurred because of the large population of lower middle class students attending the university, many of whom suffered from the limited support offered by Pell Grants. The Act, Ragland said, would help close that gap.
Pending on Bush’s signature, the Act will allow increases to the maximum award amount a student can receive from a Pell Grant.
Currently, the maximum award stands at $4,310. The Act would increase the maximum amount by $490 for each of the first two years following the Act’s approval, then by $690 for the following two years, and finally, allowing an increase of $1,090 for each year following.
Such an endeavor would be funded by another section of the act that
would lowers subsidies provided to private banks for student loans.
Reports of various private banks’ misuse of such provided subsidies, including bribes offered to university officials to steer students to their specific services, fueled support for their removal.
Aaron Wylie, director of legislative affairs for Associated Students of Colorado, said he had been a supporter of this particular section.
“Rather than put that money there, the state can put it into grants
and scholarships for students,” Wylie said. “Rather than deal through a middle man, they can give it directly to students.”
Other student aid reforms that would take place under the Act include
the creation of an Income Based Repayment program, which would
allow student loans to be repaid as a percentage of their income,
“It’s not going to ask someone who’s not making very much money to pay
an unreasonable percentage of their income every month to the student
loan to prepay it,” Ragland said. “They’re still repaying their student loan, but their monthly payment isn’t going to be something that’s going to be eat up everything else they have.”
When asked of his response to critics of the Act who deemed it a threat to university independence, Ragland said that in the case of Colorado, higher education required more government support, and that this Act would not create strict federal regulations on the university.
“We should use any kind of help we can get to have greater access to higher education,” Ragland said. “I don’t think it ties us down as far as commitments to the federal government at all.”
Wylie, on the other hand, expressed concern.
While he supported the Act, Wylie worried that higher education’s increased dependency on federal funds could lead to imposing regulations, college aptitude tests being an example.
“We need to measure the outcome for student learning.to make sure that students are actually getting the most that they can out of an education,” Wylie said. “But the direction we’re going seems to be moving more towards ‘No Child Left Behind’ for higher education.”
Staff writer Erik Meyers can be reached at email@example.com