The House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor introduced a comprehensive overhaul of the higher education system - the College Affordability Act – that will lower the cost of college for students and families, improve the quality of higher education through stronger accountability, and expands opportunity for students by giving them the support and flexibility needed to succeed.
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“With this Act, the House Democrats are delivering on the top priority for the American people,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was on hand for the press conference introducing the landmark bill. “Every time we meet with students and families, we hear the same thing: college affordability in America is just inaccessible to them. We must put an end to years of Republican inaction because we can no longer afford to do nothing when 44 million Americans are saddled with $1.5 trillion in debt.”
This groundbreaking legislation comes more than a decade after the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and at a time when the combination of rising tuition and inconsistent quality is undermining students’ access to the benefits of a college degree.
“The College Affordability Act is a responsible, comprehensive overhaul of our higher education system that would mean students can spend less and earn more,” said Committee on Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). “This proposal immediately cuts the cost of college for students and families and provides relief for existing borrowers. At the same time, it improves the quality of education by holding schools accountable for their students’ success, and it meets students’ individual needs by expanding access to more flexible college options and stronger support – helping students graduate on time and move into the workforce.”
A major focus of the College Affordability Act is the rising cost of tuition, which the legislation will take on by restoring state and federal investments in public colleges and universities. This should reduce the burden that has been shifted to students and their families.
“It’s a little bit surprising that the bill has been introduced; there’s been speculation about it for quite some time,” said Jim Boyle, a Washington D.C. based consultant who is the former president of the College Parents of America. “Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, over the years, has been delayed and punted by various Congresses and, so, this introduction of it is just a step in the process. There’s still curiosity about what will happen in the Senate, and of course, there will not be a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act unless, somehow, the House and Senate can come to an agreement on the various elements that will be a part of it.”
The College Affordability Act also promises to make college affordable for low- and middle-income students by increasing the value of Pell Grants, ease the burden of student loans by making existing them cheaper and easier to pay off, and crackdown on predatory for-profit colleges that defraud students, veterans, and taxpayers.
“Every time we meet with students and families, we hear the same thing: college affordability in America is just inaccessible to them."
“The issue of affordability is a complicated one to address,” said Boyle. “Part of the reason is because it’s attempting to put a government solution to what really is a market problem. There are certain degrees that are viewed as extremely valuable in the marketplace, and institutions that have a strong brand and reputation can charge whatever they want, and they would have people that are willing to pay."
Boyle believes that most institutions now "are going out of their way to make their pricing more attractive to students, and they can and will take advantage of government programs that can make the cost less onerous, but someone ends up paying for it in the end, and that’s the taxpayer.”
The new plan will also hold all schools accountable for providing students a quality education that leads to a rewarding career, and helps improve graduation rates by providing stronger wraparound services to keep students in school and on track.
While there is disagreement between the parties when it comes to the issue of for-profit colleges or how necessary it is that people attend college at all, the College Affordability Act aims to satisfy both parties.
“The whole area of vocational education, as some would call it, or workforce training, as others might call it, that’s an area where, I think, there is some bipartisan agreement,” said Boyle. “When you hear, and Chairman Scott, for instance, talked about the money that might be used for short-term Pell Grants programs. Those are for programs often offered by community colleges that provide a chance to get a credential that can very quickly lead to a job or promotion within a company because that is required to reach the next step. There’s bipartisan agreement that an investment like that makes sense."
The Act also promises investment in the critical institutions that enroll underserved students by increasing and permanently reauthorizing mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority Serving Institutions.