The U.S. House of Representatives today passed legislation to expand access to college by improving financial aid programs and removing obstacles that deter qualified students, such as complicated financial aid applications and predatory lending practices.
The College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), which the House approved by a vote of 354 to 58, reforms and strengthens the nation's higher education programs to ensure that they operate in the best interests of students and families. H.R. 4137 is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the primary federal law aimed at expanding college access for low- and middle-income students.
"In addition to expanding need-based aid for many students, this bill makes higher education more consumer-friendly," said Congresswoman Hirono, who established a reputation as a consumer advocate while serving as a state legislator. "We are providing vital consumer protections on student loans, simplifying the student aid application process, and helping students manage their textbook costs. In effect, we are establishing a bill of rights for college consumers."
For details of the rights that students would have under this legislation, see http://edlabor.house.gov/publications/20080207CCBillofRights.pdf
Congresswoman Hirono is a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, which produced this legislation. Serving on both the Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Subcommittee on Early, Elementary & Secondary Education, she worked to include provisions from the Early Educator Loan Forgiveness Act (H.R. 2655) and the Early Education Workforce Act (H.R. 3966), legislation she introduced to help improve early childhood education.
"Including these provisions in the bill we passed today shows the link between early education and higher education. Making a commitment to preschool teachers helps our youngest children and university students," she said.
Some other highlights of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act are presented here:
-Allows students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships;
-Streamlines the federal student financial aid application process;
-Strengthens provisions previously approved by the House to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs;
-Makes textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester;
-Strengthens college readiness and support programs for minority and low-income students;
-ncreases college aid and support programs for veterans and military families;
-Ensures equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities;
-Strengthens our nation's workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities; and
-Improves safety on college campuses and help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster.
The legislation passed today is the second major step that the new Democratic Congress has taken to make college more affordable and accessible for all qualified students. Last year, Congress enacted into law a $20 billion increase in college financial aid over the next five years, the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill of 1944.
"Attending college can be expensive, but not attending college can be even costlier," said Congresswoman Hirono. "I am a strong supporter of education, and want more students in Hawaii to further their education at community colleges and universities. Passing this bill will help our students and families."
The bill is supported by a broad coalition of students, colleges and universities, consumer rights advocacy groups and minority organizations.