MAKING HIGHER EDUCATION AFFORDABLE FOR SOUTH JERSEY STUDENTS
This time of year is often stressful for high school seniors who are working overtime to meet college application deadlines. This time is equally stressful on parents as they worry about how they will help pay the rising costs of higher education for their sons and daughters. For the majority of South Jersey families, any discussion of attending a community college or four-year university involves looking at financial assistance available through the federal government, state programs, and private grants to pay for the costs. Unfortunately, the simple fact is that higher education is becoming less and less affordable - a trend that must be reversed.
Recently, students and families, who already felt the pressures to pay for higher education, were again dealt a financial blow. This past fall, community colleges around the state increased their tuition costs by more than 5 percent, on average, to make up the state's budgetary shortfalls, with four-year public colleges and universities raising the tuition by 8 percent. Even prior to these increases, New Jersey had the second-highest in-state tuition fees in the country. It is deeply troubling that the fiscal burden continues to be passed on to our families, but assistance to our students can be achieved.
Earlier this month, I met with Andrew Klimkowski, a senior at the Richard Stockton College, in my Washington office. Andrew came to Capitol Hill to stress the importance of higher learning in his life and to advocate that Congress should work to make higher education more affordable. With Andrew and his colleagues in mind, I was pleased to support H.R. 5, the "College Student Relief Act of 2007," which would lower interest rates on federal loans that students and parents take out to pay for college.
Student loans, however, are just one piece of the financial aid puzzle. The federal Pell Grant Program, which provides grants on a need-based case for undergraduates, enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Congress and is favored by student groups and academic institutions. As the largest source of grant aid for post-secondary education, I have long advocated for increasing our commitment and funding for Pell Grants, which has remained at $4,050 per grant (on average) since 2002. Most recently, I echoed the National Education Association's call to raise the Pell Grant to $4,550.
The legislation recently approved by the House should not be the Congress' only action on assisting our students. Valuable financial assistance, such as the Pell Grant Program and extending the higher education tax deduction, remain critical to making higher education affordable and must be promoted, with other options pursued. South Jersey students often look to federal and state governments for assistance in making their college dreams a reality. I hope my colleagues in the Congress listen to the concerns from our youth, as I did with Andrew Klimkowski, and work towards making college more affordable for our students.
For more information about federal aid available to students for higher education, please visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.