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Cantwell Fights to Make College Education Affordable

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell Fights to Make College Education Affordable

Senator Urges Increases for Pell Grants and Perkins Loans while President Slashes Funding Support

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called on Budget Committee leaders to reverse the president's cuts to higher education and make college more affordable. Cantwell is urging the Budget Committee to raise the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,100 and undo proposed funding cuts that would gut the Perkins Loan program. These critical programs help millions of Americans afford college. Cantwell, the first member of her family to graduate from college, did so with the help of federal Pell Grants.

"Skyrocketing tuition is making it more and more difficult for Americans to earn a college degree without going deep into debt" said Cantwell. "During the last five years alone, costs at public universities jumped 33 percent, and more than two-thirds of our college students borrow money to pay for an undergraduate degree. We must do more to make college a reality for more of our students. A degree should never be beyond the reach of any hard-working American."

On Friday, Cantwell wrote to Budget Committee leaders asking them to restore $65.4 million in Perkins Loan funding—an amount equal to the approved 2007 funding level. 28 senators signed onto Cantwell's letter. The president has eliminated Perkins Loan funding in his 2008 budget proposal.

"More than 900,000 students received Perkins Loans this year to pay for college," Cantwell wrote. "The program often makes the difference for low-income students who otherwise cannot afford to pay for college. We must maintain an accessible path to quality education for our students. It is critical that funding for the Perkins Loan program be restored."

In a second bipartisan letter, Cantwell and 39 of her Senate colleagues asked Budget Committee leaders to raise the maximum Pell Grant award from $4,310 to $5,100 to help students meet rising tuition rates. Cantwell has advocated increased Pell Grant funding each year since taking office.

"As college costs have increased, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has continued to decline," the senators wrote. "In 1975, the maximum Pell Grant represented approximately 80% of the costs of attending a four-year public institution. But in 2001-2002 the maximum Pell Grant covered only 42% of those costs, and by 2005-2006 it covered just 33%. Consequently, an increasing number of students are turning to private loans to cover the costs of higher education. According to the College Board, the amount of private student loans grew about 27% every year between the years of 2000-2001 and 2005-2006. Congress needs to do more to boost need-based aid so that students are not forced to take on unmanageable levels of debt."

Cantwell has long worked to confront rising tuition and make college more affordable. Earlier this year, she reintroduced her legislation to increase by an average of $3,000 the tax benefits for families saving money for their children's education. Her Education for Students Act would increase the maximum contribution to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts to $5,000 per year—up from its current level of $2,000.

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