KENNEDY ADDRESSES SENATE BEFORE HISTORIC VOTE ON HIGHER EDUCATION
As read by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski on the floor of the Senate
Tonight, as the United States Senate votes on the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, Senator Barbara Mikulski read a statement from Chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to his Senate colleagues supporting the passage of the bill and recognizing its importance to students and families across the nation. Kennedy is a chief author of the legislation.
"I'm pleased to express my strong support for final passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. This important legislation builds on key higher education measures we've approved in the past year to increase college aid and make loans more available and affordable for students and families. The current bill goes even further to assure that a college education is affordable and accessible to our citizens.
The bill reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965 for the first time in a decade, and our action comes at a time when students and families need more help then ever to deal with the rising cost of college. Average tuition, fees and room and board at public colleges are more than $13,000 today, and more than $32,000 at private colleges. Each year an estimated 780,000 talented, qualified students don't attend a four-year college because they can't afford it.
The current bill takes major steps to expand college access and affordability. It holds colleges accountable for the rising cost of education by requiring the top five percent of colleges with the greatest cost increases to submit detailed reports to the Secretary of Education on why their costs have risen, and what they will do to hold costs down in the future. It simplifies the complex application process for student aid by replacing the seven-page Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with a two-page "EZ-FAFSA." It also expands grant aid for our neediest students by enabling them to receive Pell Grants year-round for the first time.
The Legislation also takes major steps to respond to the ethical scandals in the student loan industry, which the Committee documented in investigations last year. It bans lenders from offering gifts to college officials in order to obtain loan business. It requires strict codes of conduct on student loans, and it requires colleges that use "preferred lender" lists to state clearly why they believe such lenders are offering the best terms and conditions on student loans.
I'm particularly proud of the provisions in the bill to help students with disabilities and veterans. It enables students with intellectual disabilities who attend postsecondary transition programs at colleges to receive Pell Grants and work-study funds for the first time. It provides support for colleges to expand these transition programs, and support for demonstration projects to enable students with print disabilities to receive course materials.
The bill helps service men and women by enabling them to defer payments on their student loans - interest-free - while they're on active duty, by enabling them to re-enroll in college without delay when their service is complete, and by changing student aid rules so that military benefits are not counted against them in the receiving federal aid for college.
This bill creates a lasting legacy for students and families, and none of this would have been possible without the bipartisan cooperation of the members of the HELP Committee and the House Committee on Education and Labor. I commend our Ranking Member, Senator Enzi, and my House colleagues, Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon, for their strong support for completing this bill. I'm especially grateful to my friend, Senator Mikulski, for her impressive work in resolving some of the most difficult issues in this bill.
As President Kennedy said in 1961, "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American's capacity. The human mind is our fundamental resource."
Those words were true then, and they're even truer today. We all can be proud that with passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, we're meeting our responsibility to help all our citizens obtain a higher education. By improving their lives, we also strengthen our nation and our future. I commend you all for your leadership in completing this bill, and I urge all my colleagues to support this needed legislation."