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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 174

Location: Washington, DC


S. 174. A bill to put a college education within reach, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, as another semester begins, many college students are worrying not only about their course loads and class work, but about how they will pay for school. Today, the average cost of room, board and tuition at a public four-year college has jumped to over $9,000. Tuition and fees alone jumped 9.6 percent from last year. The average cost of room, board and tuition at a private four-year college has jumped to just over $25,000 with tuition and fees having risen 5.8 percent.

What do the rising costs of attending a college or university mean for American families? It means that despite their best efforts to save and plan ahead, hard working families have to spend a larger percentage of their income than ever before to send their children to school. To attend my alma mater, the University of Delaware, it costs nearly 20 percent of a Delaware family's average annual income to cover costs. In fact just a few months ago, tuition was increased from the Fall to Spring semester by $120 to make up for an expected $3.1 cut in state aid to the university. If a Delaware family wants to send their child to a private university, approximately 50 percent of their income is required.

To help counteract these spiraling costs, I come to the floor today to reintroduce "The Tuition Assistance for Families Act," a comprehensive package of tax credits and deductions, grants and scholarships that will assist American families in sending their children to college. Building upon the previous efforts of mine and others, this legislation will provide more families with much needed assistance so that the decision to send one's child to school will not be overshadowed by the decision of how to pay for it.

Specifically, the "Tuition Assistance for Families Act" will raise the current tuition tax deduction for higher education expenses from $3,000 to $12,000. Based on legislation that I previously sponsored with Senator SCHUMER, this $9,000 increase will go a long way in helping middle class American families afford tuition.

The "Tuition Assistance for Families Act" expands tuition tax credits already in law, the Hope Scholarship and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. Currently, the Lifetime Learning Credit allows a 20 percent tax credit on the first $10,000 of one's higher education expenses. Under my bill, this percentage jumps to 25 percent while the amount of expenses subjected to the credit rises to $12,000. This means that a student who files a return in tax year 2003 under my plan could get up to $3,000 back in taxes. This is $1,000 more than the $2,000 maximum allowable credit available under current law. That means that under my plan, up to an additional $1,000 can go directly back into a student's pocket to pay for books, a computer or tuition. To maximize the utility of the tax credits, my bill also raises the income limits for both the Hope Scholarship and the Lifetime Learning Credit to up to $130,000 per family, per year. This will allow more families to access the help that they need.

My bill reintroduces the idea of a $1,000 merit scholarship to be awarded to each high school senior graduating in the top 5 percent of his or her class. These types of scholarships not only reward student achievement, they help to ensure that the best and brightest students have the ability to go on to college thereby increasing the pool of well-qualified Americans in the workforce.

Finally, the "Tuition Assistance for Families Act" will increase the maximum Pell Grant award from $4,000 to $4,500. During the 2001-2002 school year, the maximum Pell Grant award covered approximately 42 percent of the average tuition, room and board at a public four-year university. During the 1975-76 it covered 84 percent of these same costs. Clearly, the purchasing power of these grants has declined dramatically over the years. As such, the debt load of American students and American families has increased as students have looked to federal and private loans to finance their education. Shockingly but not surprisingly, 64 percent of today's college students graduate with student loan debt at an average of $16,928, double the debt load of 1994.

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It is the dream of every American parent to provide for their child a better life than they had themselves. Part of doing this involves sending your kids to college. This is why I have spent a great deal of my time in the Senate fighting to provide tax relief for middle class American families struggling with college costs. And while I was pleased when some of the ideas I advocated were adopted in the 1997 tax cut bill, it is clear that as tuition costs rise dramatically, Americans need additional assistance. The "Tuition Assistance for Families Act" will provide extra help so that more families can afford to give their children a brighter and better future. The "Tuition Assistance for Families Act" goes one step further in committing the federal government to making college more affordable for Americans.

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