For students juggling student loans and grants in order to afford rising tuition rates, U.S. House Resolution 609 could not come at a worse time. This Republican-backed proposal to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 would cut $11 billion from federal financial aid to students. Passed through the House Education Committee on a party-line vote last July, the bill will come up for a vote by the full House this November. Ensuring access to higher education is vital to maintaining the country’s competitiveness in the world market; it is in everyone’s best interest to stop Congress from enacting this cut.
Republican spokesmen claim the resolution will provide more students with access to higher education, but the bill would instead close doors to higher education to thousands of current high school students and their families. The bill would drastically decrease the number of students eligible to receive Pell Grants, while increasing the financial burden for federal aid recipients. The initiative increases the theoretical amount Congress can appropriate for federal grants by $200 per recipient, bringing the maximum to $6,000. The increase, however, does not translate to an improvement for students; the actual maximum Pell Grant remains at $4,050.
H.R. 609 cuts subsidies to lenders, giving private financial institutions no incentive to offer students loans with interest rates below those available in the open market. Switching from the fixed 6.8 percent interest rate of 2000 to variable rates with a cap of 8.25 percent could subject students to a 1.45-percent increase in their annual rate – thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.
Furthermore, in contrast to the current system, in which all lenders are guaranteed generous subsidies for offering low-interest, fixed rate student loans, the proposed system – with its emphasis on competition among lenders – will hit low-income families particularly hard. Without subsidies, lenders will assign interest rates based on risk; students coming from difficult financial backgrounds will undoubtedly receive loans at the highest possible rates. These students, who already face greater obstacles than the average college attendee, do not need another financial roadblock in their path. Should high fees on student loans make them unattainable for low-income families, students will be forced to wait another generation to obtain the education necessary to rise out of poverty.
With tuition costs constantly rising, even average, middle-class households may soon be unable to afford the cost of sending a child to an institution such as the University without financial assistance. If H.R. 609 passes, the financial burden for providing this assistance will be shifted to the shoulders of schools, like the University. H.R. 609, therefore, has dangerous implications for both middle-class families and the state’s public university system.
As with many conservative education initiatives, H.R. 609 is a step backward. In today’s world, a bachelors degree is analogous to what a high school diploma used to be: a basic prerequisite for stable and well-paid employment. Accordingly, the government should take steps to ensure higher education is as affordable and accessible as secondary education, regardless of one’s race or economic background.