Sunday, April 02, 2006

House Backs Bill to Expand College Access, Enhance American Competitiveness

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved the College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), legislation to expand college access by strengthening the Pell Grant program, providing parents and students with more information about spikes in college costs, and bolstering math and science education to enhance American competitiveness. The legislation - which would complete reauthorization of the Higher Education Act - was authored by Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), along with former committee chair and current House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). "The new realities of an increasingly competitive global economy have made a college education more necessary than ever before," said McKeon (R-CA). "Unfortunately, even with historic levels of federal funding for higher education, the dream of getting a college education continues to elude many low- and middle-income Americans. This bill takes a huge step toward making that dream a reality."

The College Access & Opportunity Act improves the Pell Grant program - funded at an all-time high, with a 101% increase in funding since Republicans gained the majority in Congress in 1994 - by allowing students to receive Pell aid year-round and repealing the federal rule that needlessly limits the amount of Pell Grant aid a student attending a very low-cost school may receive. "This legislation strengthens the Pell Grant program and increases access to college for millions of worthy young students," said Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL), chairman of the 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee and chairman of the Congressional Pell Grant Caucus. "On the heels of record funding for Pell Grants, the improvements we're making to the program will make a difference for even more students seeking to attend college."

The legislation also takes steps to improve math, science, and critical foreign language education, including an amendment - offered by Education & the Workforce Committee member Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-WA) - to incorporate components of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative into the framework of current law. "Congress recognizes the need to enhance American competitiveness, and that effort must start within our education system," said McMorris. "This bill follows up on the President's State of the Union proposal to enhance America's leadership in science and technology. By placing well-qualified teachers in the classroom and creating incentives for pursuing degrees in math, science, and foreign languages, we will create a 21st Century workforce that is prepared to be competitive in the global marketplace."

Also included in the College Access & Opportunity Act are innovative measures to increase transparency in higher education programs and provide parents and students with more information about college costs and colleges themselves. For example, the bill creates a College Affordability Index would take existing information and present it to students and families in a new format that can be useful as they make decisions about attending college. This index provides an "apples to apples" comparison of tuition growth - similar to the Consumer Price Index. "Expanding college access remains a fundamental goal for this nation and this Congress," concluded McKeon. "Part of this effort is adding more sunlight into the discussion about higher education - and the rising costs of a college education in particular. This bill adds that necessary sunlight, and it will make a difference for countless students."



Comment by Senator Harris McDowell (D) Delaware

No Democrat would be stupid enough to kill competition for student loans for two reasons. 1) It is a dumb idea. 2) Republicans would kill us for it. And rightly so. Yet, that is what happened to the U.S. Congress just a few months ago; and Republicans controlling the House are right in the middle of it.

As a Democrat, I admit it: Sometimes I wonder about Republicans. But let's give Republicans some grudging credit for all they have done to convince people that they are the guardians of the free market system. When people are watching and the cameras are rolling, they talk a good game about protecting consumers with competition and free markets. But a few days before Christmas, at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, with nary a reporter in sight, Republicans in Congress took the most anti-competitive law in America, and made it worse.

They outlawed competition for the 40 million people with hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans who can no longer shop for a better deal or even change lenders if they so choose. Lots of people heard that Congress raised rates on student loans. But much worse, and what got much less attention, was that Congress also changed the way people pay them back. Starting July 1, students and parents will no longer be able to lock in low rates for longer terms. Big lenders convinced Congress that competition for their student loan portfolio would be bad.

Just as they convinced Congress to remove a provision that would have outlawed the most anti-competitive law in America: the Single Holder Rule. Under this law, students and parents whose loans are owned by only one lender cannot change lenders if they find a better deal for rates or terms of service. And they are only allowed to refinance one time. That is it. No more.

As a result of this unprecedented protection from the marketplace, America's largest student loan lender is also one of America's most profitable companies. Not because they are better, smarter or faster, but just because they have better friends on Capitol Hill to protect them from competition.

Imagine if a Congressman tried that kind of law with your home loan, car loan, boat loan or any kind of loan. He would be laughed out of office. Yet, Republicans meet in the dead of the night to outlaw competition for student loans, and they are the ones who are laughing because few even noticed.

Some did. Columnist Dick Morris called the anti-refinancing move an "obnoxious...student loan rip-off." The New York Times called it "robbing Joe College to pay Sallie Mae." The Chronicle of Higher Education said legislation was meant to make refinancing less appealing to borrowers, and "force the consolidation companies out of the market." It is working with a vengeance.

Today, because of crushing debt from credit cards and student loans, the average age of a person filing for bankruptcy is less than 30 years old. By outlawing refinancing, this new legislation is removing a student's most valuable tool to manage that debt.

We don't have to wait until July to know the results; more graduates with even less ability to repay their loans, more defaults, higher cost to the federal government, and a whole bunch of Republicans in Congress hoping students and parents never find out how a few big companies have turned a federal student loan program into a cash cow at their expense.

The previous chair of the committee overseeing student loans, John Boehner, did such a good job that his colleagues kicked him upstairs to become House Majority Leader. The committee has a new chair, and a new chance to set this crazy law right. One of the first questions they will have to answer is why can't we refinance student loans wherever and how often we like, just like other loans? Let's hope that they answer that question during school hours and not at 3 a.m. Because if Republicans aren't good for free markets and competition, what good are they?


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


No comments: