HIGHER EDUCATION AMENDMENTS OF 2007 -- (Senate - July 24, 2007)
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to congratulate Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Enzi on passage of this very important legislation. I also thank them for their assistance in including within the Higher Education Amendments Act of 2007 a bill I have worked on, the Early Federal Pell Grant Commitment Demonstration Program.
The Early Federal Pell Grant Commitment Demonstration Program will bring us one step closer to making sure that every child has the opportunity to go to college. Our current higher education system is riddled with barriers that students must overcome to obtain the keys to their future--a college education. This program will break down some of those very barriers by making an early promise of Federal aid to students early enough in their academic careers so that the reality of a college education is firmly in their grasp.
How we choose to support our students today will have broad ramifications for not only them but for our country 10, 20, and 30 years down the road. The consequences are dire if we do not take a more aggressive approach to make sure the doors to a college education are open wide enough so every student that wants to pursue a college education can do so regardless of their family income. If we maintain the status quo, the outlook for too many students is grim. Take, for example, the fact that over the next decade 2 million college-ready students from households with an income below $50,000 will not attend college because they cannot afford the costs. Every door we fail to open for our students is a door closed--a missed opportunity--for our country down the road.
I commend my colleagues for their leadership in developing meaningful reforms regarding the cost of and access to a college education in this bill as well as the recently passed Higher Education Access Act of 2007. I am pleased that the Early Federal Pell Grant Commitment Demonstration Program is one component of those reforms--providing students and their families with a commitment of Federal aid early in their academic careers, information about the costs of college, and information about the various types of available financial aid. Right now, students don't find out whether they are eligible for Federal aid until their senior year--much less how much they will receive. This timeframe doesn't work for many families. Making a commitment--a promise--of Federal aid to students at an early age will begin the conversation about college earlier and continue it through the day they receive the acceptance letters from the schools of their choice.
If you have seen the news articles, or if you are putting a child through college, you know that the cost of a college education can be daunting to a student and their family. Many children think--erroneously--that they can't afford to go to college, and they go through high school thinking their futures are limited. We should not wait to tell those that need it that they will receive help to pay for college. Committing a Pell grant--the maximum of which is $4,310 under current law and $5,400 in the Senate-passed Higher Education Access Act--will critically alter the expectations of low-income students. For those students whose future plans often do not include college, this program will provide a financial promise, and the hope that comes with knowing you can afford a college degree.
Under this early commitment plan, four States will receive funding for a demonstration program, each of which will work with two cohorts of up to 10,000 8th grade students; one in school year 2008-2009, and one in school year 2009-2010. Schools with a National School Lunch Program participation rate above 50 percent would be eligible for the program, and by using the same eligibility criteria as the National School Lunch Program, students would be identified based on need in the 8th grade.
The Early Federal Pell Grant Commitment Demonstration Program will also provide funding for states, in conjunction with the participating local educational agencies, to conduct targeted information campaigns beginning in the 8th grade and continuing through students' senior year. These campaigns will inform students and their families of the program and provide information about the cost of a college education, state and federal financial assistance, and the average amount of aid awards. A targeted information campaign, along with a guarantee of a Pell grant, will allow families and students to not just plan ahead for college, but to dream of a future that includes higher education.