Senate, House of Representatives pass College Cost Reduction and Access Act
Photo illustration by Courtney Lamdin
By Jessica Maurice
It currently costs $39,505 annually for a student to attend St. Michael's. This figure includes tuition fees, room and board, books and personal costs.
"That's a lot of money when you figure you could buy a decent car for the same amount as it costs to pay for one semester," first-year Eugene Taylor said.
Taylor isn't the only one noticing the high cost of college.
"As the cost for college education soars we are finding many low income families not having enough money," Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said.
Between 2000 and 2006, the cost of a private college in Vermont rose 30 percent.
On Sept. 7, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The bill would provide billions of dollars a year in grant aid for low-income students and would help lower student loan debt. Sanders is on the Senate Health, Labor, and Pensions Committee which helped write the bill, he said.
Junior Abby Dickie is helping her parents pay for her education as much as she can and expects to pay off college loans after graduation.
"I have to pay a $1,000 a semester toward my education," Dickie said. "It's not a lot for college but it is most of what I make working a near minimum wage job during the summer."
Dickie worked at a kid's summer camp and currently has a work study job in the office of new student programs.
"I plan on going into education after graduation and I'm nervous about having so much to pay off because I know I won't start off making a lot of money," Dickie said.
The additional money from the College Cost Reduction Act will also be used for the debt forgiveness program, Sanders said. This program would help students such as Dickie who work in public service jobs. If a student works for public service — as a doctor, teacher or nurse for a non-profit organization for ten years, the debt forgiveness program will pay off any remaining loans the graduate still owes, Sanders said.
"In Vermont we have many thousands of families who cannot afford the cost of college," Sanders said. "This will be a tremendous step forward in helping people who want to work in public service."
Sanders said some people avoid public service jobs, such as teaching, because they know they cannot expect a significantly high salary to help them pay off their college debt. The forgiveness program would encourage students and graduates to no longer have to think that way.
Seventy-three percent of graduates from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006 had taken out federal loans, said Sue Hurst, the assistant director of student financial services. Their average debt was $18,133, Hurst said.
There are two types of federal loans: the Perkins loan and the Stafford loan.
The Perkins loan is given to St. Michael's by the government and offers students anywhere from $500 to $2,500 depending on their need. The Stafford loan is subsidized and offers up to $3,500 for first-year and sophomore students, and $5,500 for juniors and seniors.
In the case of a subsidized loan, interest does not apply until after the student has graduated. With unsubsidized loans, interest is applied when loan being taken out, which is while the student is still in school.
Federal need is based on the cost of attendance minus the expected family contribution, determined by the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Hurst said.
The government usually gives Pell grants to students with a low family income based on FAFSA results. The Pell grant does not need to be repaid, Hurst said.
"I think the act is going to be very helpful," Taylor said. "It's not fair for some kids to be able to go to college and some kids not to be able to go just because their family doesn't make enough money."