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Biweekly Column (Reaching for Higher Education)

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Reaching for Higher Education

By: Congressman Lamar Smith

Higher education has become more expensive putting college further out of reach for many young Americans. America's greatest resource is its young people. We cannot allow their talent to go untapped.

That is why Congress passed legislation this year to make college more accessible and affordable.

The "College Access and Opportunity Act of 2006," enacted earlier this year, increases college loan limits to $3,500 per year for first-year students, $4,500 for second-year students and $12,000 for graduate students. The bill also reduces student loan fees for all students from four to one percent.

Under the revised federal student loan program, college students will see more than $1 billion in new spending over five years through increased loan limits and an increase in Pell Grant funding. Federal student loan programs will disburse about $360 billion in new loans between 2006 and 2010.

To ensure the Pell Grant program is around for future generations of Americans, the legislation generates $11 billion in savings over the next five years by reducing program waste and inefficiency.

About $600 million per year in administrative expenses - salaries, travel, and office supplies for example - is currently funded through mandatory, entitlement spending. Administrative funds should never be funded on auto-pilot. That money belongs to students - not federal agencies. The bill requires that these funds be justified every year.

By cutting wasteful spending, the bill puts the Pell Grant program on a more stable financial foundation ensuring the program does not collapse under its own weight. Any student currently eligible for federal student financial aid will still have the same, if not more, access to the federal student loan program.

In addition to reforming the federal Pell Grant system, Congress also passed new legislation expanding loan relief to college students interested in becoming teachers. Aspiring teachers who major in math or science and teach for at least five years in low-income schools will receive up to $17,500 in financial aid. This program also benefits elementary schools that lack qualified teachers in key subjects like math and science.

Another loan program put into place this year offers financial aid to college-bound high school students taking advanced math and science classes. Students who take advanced placement, or "AP" math or science during their first or second year of high school could get $750 to $1,300 in college aid. Third and fourth year students taking AP math or science could receive an additional $4,000 per year.

Be assured that I will continue to support measures that invest in the education of our young people. They are America's future leaders.

Unfortunately, applying for tuition assistance itself can be a barrier to higher education. There are many different types of student loans available. Finding them can be a difficult task.

That is why I am hosting a tuition assistance workshop on October 10 and 11. Representatives from the United States Department of Education will be on hand to answer questions and offer their expertise. They will discuss the types of resources available to today's prospective college students. More importantly, they will provide students and parents with essential tips on how to access them.

The October 10 workshop will be held from 7 to 9 P.M. at the Live Oak Civic Center at 8101 Pat Booker Road in San Antonio. The October 11 workshop will be held from 7 to 9 P.M. at the GVTC Auditorium in Bulverde.

If you cannot make it to the workshop and need help understanding your college tuition options, you can visit the Department of Education website at There you will find information about various kinds of financial aid programs (loans, grants, and work-study), how to apply and common myths about student loans.

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