Delaware State Education Association Action! - Opening Doors for All Students

Op-Ed

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: June 30, 2008
Location: Unknown

Delaware State Education Association Action! - Opening Doors for All Students

It is this time each year that America's educators are rewarded with the knowledge that they have had a lasting impact on the lives of so many young people, and I congratulate those who played an instrumental role in the graduating Class of 2008. For students and parents, these are exciting times. For some, the upcoming months will be daunting, as parents confront the challenge of figuring out how, or if, they can pay for college.

I'll never forget the look on my dad's face during my senior year of high school when he told me the bank didn't give him the loan he needed to send me to the University of Delaware. Eventually, he got the loan, I had a summer job, and I went to on to college the following September. But the look on his face - I could tell he thought he was letting me down - has been a memory that has lasted a lifetime.

The price of going to college has increased dramatically in the last two decades. In fact, over 400,000 students across the country who qualified to go to a four-year college this year will not go because they cannot afford it. Nearly 200,000 of those students won't attend any college at all. You know, as do I, that this is unacceptable.

College is on the verge of becoming a luxury good - and the doors of opportunity are in danger of being shut to all but the wealthiest.

In the last 18 months, Congress has worked across party lines to make a college education more affordable. We committed an additional $20 billion in new and enhanced student aid and benefits, including lower interest rates on Stafford loans, larger Pell Grants, and capped loan repayments. This past May, we also increased the amount of federal loans that a student can borrow, and provided families who are behind in their mortgage payments or medical bills with flexibility in obtaining and repaying student loans.

Still - we must do more. Just as our workforce and economy must innovate to stay a step ahead of the competition, our education policies must as well. You've seen first hand students who think college education is out of reach lose motivation - we have to keep them engaged by starting the conversation about college sooner and ensuring the cost doesn't put higher education out of reach. That is why I introduced the College ACCESS Plan last year.

If enacted, my plan would consolidate two of the existing tax incentives for college (the Hope Credit and the tuition deduction), creating a single, refundable tax credit worth up to $3,000 per student. This would fully cover the average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year college and cover more than half the cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year college. The credit would also be tied to inflation - so that when the cost of tuition goes up, the amount of assistance increases with it. The ACCESS Plan would also build on recent increases to the maximum Pell Grant, boosting it to $6,300.

As educators, you know the importance of instilling high expectations in students. My plan would create a demonstration program to guarantee Pell Grants to 8th graders in order to launch the formal college planning process much earlier, cultivating an expectation that the student's future includes higher education. My hope is that this will also encourage families and students to plan ahead for college. I am pleased to say that this initiative was included in the renewal of the Higher Education Act passed by the Senate, and I am working to see that it is included in the final bill.

Looking ahead, one of the first priorities of Congress next year will be to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While I have heard from some of you already at the DSEA's annual Representative Assembly meeting back in April, I encourage you to share your views with me on the current law - both its successes and its shortcomings. Your insights and experiences working on the front lines will be enormously helpful in the development of a new bill.

I will continue to fight just as hard as ever to ensure that you and your students have the resources and support you need and deserve. We both know the stakes are high, and that every door we fail to open for our students today is a missed opportunity for our country down the road.