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College Cost Reduction and Access Act-Conference Report

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COLLEGE COST REDUCTION AND ACCESS ACT--CONFERENCE REPORT

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Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I thank Chairman Kennedy, the Presiding Officer now, and Ranking Member ENZI, William Jawando on my staff--the committee's Ohio staff and all of the HELP Committee for their excellent work on this legislation. This bill, of course, as we know, invests in higher education. The returns on that investment will not only accrue to students and to the education system that serves them but will accrue to the stability, prosperity, and security of our Nation as a whole.

We know the problem. We know what has happened in the last many years to higher education in this country. Particularly in the last 5 or 6 years in my home State of Ohio, the cost of attendance at 4-year public institutions has increased 53 percent. In 2001, if you graduated from college versus going 4 years in 2007, you are paying almost half again, this year, in this 4-year period, than the 4-year period half a decade earlier. It has gone up almost 30 percent in the last 5 or 6 years at 4-year private institutions. At the same time, the median household income in my State has increased only 3 percent. So as college costs have gone up 30 percent if you go to private schools, 50 percent if you go to a public 4-year university, the average income in Ohio has gone up only 3 percent. You can see the gap.

The Federal Government has not been able to fill that gap. Pell grants haven't been raised for years until this legislation. The interest rates have continued to go up. Federal loans have not kept pace, neither FFELP nor the Direct Loan Program, so the chasm has grown in terms of the kind of money working-class kids and poor kids and middle-class kids need to go to college.

In the 2004-2005 school year, 66 percent of students graduating from 4-year institutions in my State of Ohio graduated with student loan debt, and that debt was an average of $20,000. So two-thirds of Ohio students graduating are burdened with an average of $20,000 in student loan debt. That makes a big difference in career choice. That means they sometimes cannot take the kind of job they trained for, that they most want, because it doesn't pay the bills as well as another job might.

A generation ago, it was very different. As Senator Kennedy and I have talked, I told him my wife a generation ago graduated from Kent State University, a working-class kid, the first one in her family to go to college. Her father carried a union card at Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company for 36 years as a utility worker, but she was able to graduate from Kent State, getting a bachelor's degree in journalism with grants, loans, and very little debt when she graduated so she could pursue the kind of opportunities she had chosen to.

Looking from 30 years ago to today and the difficulties that the middle-class and working-class and poor kids face going to college, that is why this bill matters, the dramatic increase in Pell grants, the lowering of interest rates, the loan forgiveness which Senator Kennedy has talked about at length--what that means is assistance for teachers and nurses and all kinds of public servants to serve the community.

This seems to be a generation of idealism, and we will see those students be able to pursue a career in public service and be able to take those jobs, sometimes--often--at lower pay, but be able to relieve themselves of the huge burden of debt they face. That is why this bill matters so much.

This bill is a major step. We know we have more work to do.

Senator Enzi has said several times that we have got to pass the other legislation with the reauthorization. He is right about that. We all agree with that. That will help on some issues such as simplifying the loan form for those prospective students filling out their applications for student loans and for grants.

We also know this growth in the cost of college, as I said earlier, the cost in State universities in Ohio has gone up 50 percent, wages have gone up for an average family only 3 percent in this decade. The Federal Government has not kept up. That means an awful lot more students have turned to the private loan system and have had to face interest rates of 10, 12, 15, sometimes as high as 18 percent. They graduate from college, private or public, with a huge, even larger burden because of those high interest rates. We need to address that in the future as the private loan system has grown more and more and more.

I close by thanking the entire committee, Senator Kennedy, Senator Enzi, for taking up this extremely important legislation. All students should be able to afford college in this country. This bill is a step, a major step in that direction. I thank all the fellow Senators who have been so involved in this issue.

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