The economic downturn has created a college affordability crisis for America's students and families. Without action, our nation will simply be unable to rise to President Obama's challenge to make America once again lead the world in college graduates by 2020. Today, Speaker Pelosi addressed the pressing issue of college affordability and the economic influence of education for America.
It looks like Democratic leaders in the Senate intend to incorporate the student lending package (SAFRA) into the budget reconciliation vote. Big banks and lending companies are waging a costly battle against student organizations, who by comparison don't have a large lobbying presence. However, students do have a strong advocate, President Obama.
Recently, President Obama addressed the issue of college affordability declaring that no one should be denied an education simply because they cannot afford it. For the past five months, college students across America have waited for action on the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA). In September, Congress overwhelming passed the legislation by a 253-171 vote. If enacted, SAFRA would be a transformative piece of legislation, putting the possibility of an affordable college education back in the grasp of students and their families. It would represent the single largest investment in federal college aid in history.
The College Democrats of America and the many students we represent are encouraged by the recent suggestions of including student aid reform in the budget reconciliation vote. It is essential that this issue is addressed and not put off until later this year when another class of Freshman enter college with debt loaded on them.
Key Components of Student Aid Reform
It is heartbreaking to know that each year 400,000 students do not attend college due to the anticipated tuition costs and the debt that follows. SAFRA addresses this reality by investing $40 billion in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum annual scholarship to $5,500 in 2010 and $6,900 in 2019.
Any student who has ever struggled through the process of completing a FAFSA form or applied for a student loan understands the difficulties of the aid process. This legislation will make our nation's financial aid programs simpler and more reliable, so they will finally operate in the best interest of students.
In addition, the legislation will mean more opportunities to prepare for good, 21st century jobs. SAFRA will mark a $10 billion investment in community colleges, creating the workforce of the future with the knowledge and expertise in specific industries. The additional funding will allow community colleges to tailor their curricula to meet the needs of high-wage, high-demand industries.
Students do not expect a free ride for college. Once enacted, this legislation will meet Pay-As-You-Go fiscally responsible principles and reduce entitlement spending by $10 billion. The reforms of the federal student loan system will save taxpayers $87 billion - and then invests $77 billion of those savings back into education.
Students will continue to organize and rally for affordable college. Expanding access to an affordable college education is one of the surest ways to overcome this recession, and build a stronger, more competitive American economy for years to come.
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