COLLEGE COST REDUCTION ACT OF 2007--Continued
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Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I first want to thank my colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy, for his leadership in bringing a bill to the floor to make college more affordable for millions of students. I also want to thank him for the example he has set over many years in standing up repeatedly to protect the interests of the students of America, and in so doing, to work tirelessly for the future benefit of our economy and our country. I am fortunate to now serve on the Senate HELP Committee and have seen first hand the efforts of Senator Kennedy and his counterpart on the minority side, Senator Enzi. I appreciate their effort, the hard work of their capable staffs, and the bipartisan collegiality that allows us today to provide much needed support to the college students of America.
The success of our Nation's youth increasingly requires a college diploma. But that diploma is becoming, for many, ever more difficult to attain. That difficulty arises not from lack of ambition or lack of ability. Increasingly, the difficulty arises from lack of any realistic way for many American families to afford the college education needed for the success of their daughters and sons.
The math here is simple. College costs have increased, but family incomes have not, nor has the Federal commitment to provide financial aid. The cost of college continues to increase for many reasons. Over the past 5 years, the cost of a 4-year public college in my State increased 47 percent. At private colleges in Illinois, the increase was 27 percent. Incomes have increased little, and so even with financial aid, 35 percent of a family's income is needed each year to pay for attendance at a 4-year public university in my State.
Federal student aid has not kept pace with these increased costs. The proportion of college expenses met by Pell grants decreased from 47 percent to 29 percent over a recent 5-year period for students in my State. Students are increasingly forced to rely on loans, and college graduates are increasingly burdened by debt. Graduates from a 4-year college in Illinois owe, on average, over $17,000 in student loan debt. That is the average.
The resulting difficulty in financing a college education impacts not only the dreams of millions of students but also the future of our country. Capable high school graduates from low- and moderate-income families are much less likely to earn a college degree than their wealthier peers. Yet competition in the global economy requires that our students attain a college degree, whether to become engineers or entrepreneurs, in order to maintain the creative and competitive workforce America needs. And for those students who do make it through college, their large debt loads make it difficult for them to choose occupations which might serve the public good but might not pay enough. Student debt is too often limiting options for those very students who should have the greatest opportunities and whose talents might provide the greatest good to society.
We must change this. The bill we are considering here today is a step in that direction. With it, we expand loan forgiveness for graduates who enter public service, we increase the threshold for income that may be earned by students receiving financial aid, and we make other significant changes. But most importantly, we increase college access by increasing the amount of support for students through increased grant aid.
My support of this legislation today echoes the first piece of legislation I introduced in the Senate. That was the Higher Education Opportunity through Pell grant Expansion Act of 2005 the HOPE Act, which called for a significant increase in the maximum Pell Grant to $5,100, financed by decreased Federal subsidies to banks and lenders. The bill we debate today would provide that increase to $5,100 by next year and further increase the maximum to $5,400 by 2011. I applaud Mr. Kennedy and my colleagues on the HELP Committee for keeping this the main focus of the benefits provided in this package.
I realize that we are asking lenders to dig a little a deeper to help students, to come up with innovative ways to continue to provide services students, even while receiving lower subsidies from the Federal Government. But I have faith that they can do this, to the benefit of our students and our country.
I look forward to soon considering the remainder of the comprehensive package to improve higher education contained in the Higher Education Amendments of 2007. But for today, I am proud today to support this bill to bring needed assistance to college students, and I urge my colleagues to join in this effort.