OPINION: How We Can Make College More Affordable - Southern Maryland Headline News

OPINION: How We Can Make College More Affordable

By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

For decades, the United States has always been committed to ensuring that qualified students could go to college, regardless of family income. Student aid programs have made it possible for millions of American students to gain access to college and the American Dream.

Unfortunately, for the last 20 years, Congress has not held up its side of the bargain. During that time, the cost of college has more than tripled, while buying power of student aid programs has diminished. The Senate recently passed the Higher Education Act, S. 2669, which will boost college aid by $17 billion through 2011, the biggest increase in college aid since passage of the GI Bill in 1944.

Twenty years ago, the maximum Pell Grant covered 55% of costs at a public four-year college. Today it covers less than a third of those costs. As a result, more than 400,000 students who qualify for college cannot attend because it is too expensive. Those who do attend, on average, graduate with more than $19,000 in student loan debt. This legislation will help us reverse those disturbing statistics.

Growing barriers to higher education have a profound effect on our nation and often affect the most basic life choices of college graduates. College graduates often cannot pursue jobs in the public sector because they typically pay less than private-sector jobs and many college graduates are strapped with large debt.

Our nation currently is experiencing a teacher shortage, particularly in high-poverty areas. I have introduced the Master Teacher Act, S. 1282, which would provide teachers who are deemed “highly qualified” with a 25% federal tax exemption if they agree to teach in schools that are not meeting the Annual Yearly Progress targets as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Higher Education Access Act will:

* Raise the maximum Pell Grant from its current $4,310 to $5,400 by 2011;

* Protect borrowers by capping monthly loan payments at 15% of discretionary income;

* Protect working students and ensure they are not penalized by increasing the amount of student income that is sheltered from the financial aid process;

* Encourage public service by providing loan forgiveness for public service employees; and,

* Hold colleges accountable for rising costs by publicizing colleges whose cost increases exceed those of their peers. This will help ensure that students and parents have access to objective data about the cost of college.

I am pleased that this bill will make it possible for more students to realize the American Dream of a college education. Today, 60% of all new jobs require some post-secondary education and by increasing college aid we are ensuring that our nation will have the workforce we need for the 21st Century.

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