INTRODUCTION OF THE COLLEGE ACCESS & OPPORTUNITY ACT -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 05, 2004)
SPEECH OF HON. JOHN A. BOEHNER OF OHIO IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2004
Mr. BOEHNER. Mr. Speaker, in 1965, Higher Education Act was established to assist low and middle income students striving for a higher education. It was as simple as that; the law was put into place to
ensure college access for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
In the last two years, I and other members of the Committee on Education & the Workforce have worked tirelessly to craft higher education legislation that will live up to that original mission. Our number one priority is, and must be, expanding college access for current and future students.
Today's introduction of the College Access & Opportunity Act represents the culmination of those efforts. We are pleased to be offering a bill that ensures students are priority number one, and are proud to have worked closely with the stakeholders of America's higher education system to have produced legislation that meets our principles of access, affordability, accountability, and quality; abiding by these principles has produced a measure that will ultimately ensure fairness for low and middle income students.
The College Access & Opportunity Act includes comprehensive reforms that will strengthen Pell Grants, student aid, college access, and Minority Serving Institutions. The bill will reduce loan costs and fees for students, and eliminate red tape for students and graduates. The College Access & Opportunity Act also includes steps to remove barriers for non-traditional students, and importantly, will empower consumers through increased sunshine and transparency in college costs and accreditation.
The bill will benefit students in numerous ways; in fact, there are far too many student benefits for me to list individually today. However, I'd like to describe some of the highlights of the bill that will show just a few of the many ways the College Access & Opportunity Act will expand college access for current and future students aspiring for the dream of a college education.
The College Access & Opportunity Act strengthens college access programs, particularly those serving students who may struggle to enter higher education. The bill enhances TRIO and GEAR UP programs targeted to first-generation, non-traditional and minority students, and ensures low-income working adults can also receive the valuable services provided through these access programs.
In Pell Grants, which are the cornerstone of federal need-based student aid, the bill includes an initiative we call "Pell Grants Plus" to provide additional Pell Grant aid to needy students who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum through the State Scholarsprogram. The proposal, similar to one offered by President Bush in his FY 2005 budget request, would not only provide up to $1000 of additional Pell Grant assistance to Pell-eligible students, but would also serve as an incentive for more states to participate in the State Scholars program and prepare more students to excel in higher education.
The bill also repeals the unfair limit on Pell Grants called "tuition sensitivity," which punishes very low cost schools and the students who attend those schools by reducing their Pell Grant aid they can receive. In addition, the College Access & Opportunity Act would permit year-round Pell Grants to allow students to accelerate their studies and graduate sooner.
Because Minority Serving Institutions play an important role for expanding college access, the bill makes a number of reforms designed to strengthen these institutions and allow them to better serve their students. For instance, the bill would make it easier for these schools to use technology to improve education, and would reduce red tape that creates unnecessary burdens as they apply for grants.
Importantly, the bill would make the student aid funding provided through the campus-based aid programs more fair and equitable. By phasing out unfair advantages given to older, more well-established schools, the College Access & Opportunity Act would ensure these funds are targeted to the students who need them the most.
Chief among our principles for reforming higher education was the need to increase accountability, and the College Access & Opportunity Act includes a number of steps that will accomplish that goal. By empowering the consumers of higher education-students and parents-with information, we will ensure they can fully exercise their power in the marketplace of higher education. Be it adding transparency to college costs or adding sunshine to the accreditation process, the bill will give consumers access to significant new information to help them make their own best decisions about higher education.
The College Access & Opportunity Act also includes a number of significant reforms to the multi-billion dollar federal student loan programs, with major steps to realign resources in order to better serve low and middle income students striving for a higher education.
Federal student loans provide access to low-cost funding that many students need to finance their higher education. The College Access & Opportunity Act will expand access to this important resource in a responsible manner that will not allow students to be burdened by unmanageable debt levels.
The bill will update loan limits for first and second year students, ensuring more money is available at the beginning of students' studies when loan limits are significantly lower and students may struggle with college costs. However, the bill will not increase the aggregate borrowing limits, ensuring students are not saddled with higher overall debt levels.
The bill also reduces origination fees for students, an important step that will ensure students have access to more of the money they borrow.
In order to make these positive reforms that provide students with greater access to student loan resources, the bill includes significant realignment of federal resources within the loan program. The bill would limit excess subsidy payments made to lenders, changing provisions in current law and requiring lenders to return excess income that can be better used to expand student access.
The bill will eliminate the anti-consumer "single-holder" rule, which needlessly limits consumers' ability to shop around for the best deal on a consolidation loan by requiring borrowers to consolidate with their current lender if that lender holds all their loans. The bill will also ensure consolidation loans are provided under the current variable interest rate structure provided for other federal student loans, eliminating unfair treatment of borrowers based simply on the date the loans are consolidated. The variable interest rates for consolidation loans will ensure all consolidation borrowers have access to low rates while being protected from interest rates that rise too high through an interest rate cap.
In addition to ensuring consolidation loans are provided under the current successful variable rate structure, the bill will also prevent other student loans from moving to a fixed rate as they would in 2006 unless we take action to prevent that change. Without preserving the current variable rate structure for these loans, borrowers would be forced to pay 6.8 percent interest rates on all loans. With borrowers today paying 2.82 percent in school and 3.42 percent in repayment, it would be shameful to impose an arbitrary fixed interest rate that would double the rate available to borrowers today.
While strengthening the loan programs to better serve borrowers, the College Access & Opportunity Act will also protect the credit history borrowers earn while repaying these loans. The bill will require lenders to report federal student loan information to all national credit bureaus, ensuring borrowers are given the positive credit history they earn by repaying their student loans.
Recognizing that the face of America's higher education system has changed significantly in recent years-both the students and the institutions that serve them-the bill will ensure all colleges and universities are treated fairly as they seek to better serve students. The bill will repeal the unfair 90-10 rule, a requirement imposed only on proprietary schools. The 90-10 rule was implemented as a safeguard, yet there is no evidence it reduces fraud and abuse and significant evidence that it may reduce access for the neediest students by forcing schools to raise tuition or move out of inner cities where many students are receiving full federal funding.
The bill also recognizes the importance of distance education at the forefront of technological advancements that can give students new opportunities to learn. By eliminating the 50 percent rule, which restricts the number of students that can be enrolled in distance education and the number of courses an institution may offer via distance education, the College Access & Opportunity Act will increase access to quality higher education through alternate channels. The bill would maintain and even enhance safeguards to ensure the integrity of these programs, while removing restrictions that prevent innovation and expanded use of new technology for student learning.
Finally the bill will no longer include separate definitions of institution of higher education, placing all eligible schools on an even playing field as they work to provide higher education to their students.
The College Access & Opportunity Act is important legislation that will help fulfill the original mission of the Higher Education Act-expanding college access. By placing students as our first priority, we are bringing forward a bill that I am proud to say will significantly improve higher education in America. I am pleased to be offering this legislation with my good friend Rep. McKeon, and am eager to move forward with these important reforms to ensure access, affordability, accountability, and quality.