Making College More Affordable

President Obama on Tuesday signed into law a higher education bill that will expand educational opportunities for America’s students and families. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act strengthens the Pell grant program, invests in community colleges, and helps student borrowers manage their student loan debt. The bill invests $40 billion in the Pell grant program to ensure that all eligible students receive help and that awards keep pace with rising inflation.  “At a time of soaring college costs, increasing Pell grants for students is a smart investment in their future and ours,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate health and education committee. “With many young people not able to afford college or graduating deep in debt, this is an important step forward in making sure all of our people, regardless of income, have a better opportunity for a higher education.”

The student aid provision would provide $44 million in additional Pell grants to college students in Vermont between now and 2017. The maximum Pell grants would go from $5,550 next school year to $5,975 by 2017. Without the legislation, the aid would have plummeted to $2,150-per-student next year because the recession has made more students eligible for the income-based assistance. The legislation changes the federal student loan program from one in which private banks distribute aid into a direct-loan program. A Sanders’ provision in the bill preserves a role for the nonprofit Vermont Student Assistance Corp so it may continue offering counseling and other assistance that it has provided for generations of Vermont students and their families.  “It makes a lot more sense to me that federal funds make college affordable than to provide billions of dollars of profits for large financial institutions,” Sanders said. “This is a good step forward but more needs to be done to address the issue of college affordability.”