Financial Aid

Congress Targets College Costs with College Affordability Act

House Democrats propose bill to cut college costs for students.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

November 26, 2019

Congress Targets College Costs with College Affordability Act
For the past decade, college costs have been increasing at an alarming rate. However, even more so alarming is the rate at which student loan debt has been climbing – so much so that it is now referred to as a student loan debt crisis. The issue has made its way to every Congressional, Senate and Presidential race platform, ignited protests around the country and prevented college graduates from hitting major life milestones like getting married, buying a home and having children. Essentially, it’s a big problem – which still needs a big solution. Despite the fact that politicians promise to alleviate the issues at hand, there has been little evidence of real change. Last month, the Committee of Education and Labor introduced the College Affordability Act, which would work to lower the cost of college for students, improve the quality of higher education and provide students with more support to be successful in and out of college. The new Act would reauthorize the Higher Education Act, according to the Center for American Progress, which was the first bill that worked to strengthen colleges and universities and provide financial assistance to students.

A History of the Higher Education Act

The Higher Education Act was first signed into law in 1965. It increased the amount of federal money distributed to colleges, created scholarships and provided low-interest loans for college students to pay for college. While the act has been reauthorized many times since 1965, the most recent and largest reauthorization came during 2008. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which was part of the reauthorization process in 2008, demanded more transparency on college costs as well as worked to make college more affordable. Pell Grant amounts were increased, interest rates on student loans were decreased and income repayment on student loans was capped at 15% of a graduate’s discretionary income. It also required colleges to place a net price calculator on their websites so that students and their parents could find the true cost of college at the institutions they were considering.

The College Affordability Act: Impact on Students Today

The College Affordability Act is pretty comprehensive. It focuses on making college more affordable, holding schools accountable and keeping students safe. The Education and Labor Committee’s press release states specifically that the bill will: • Prevent the rising cost of tuition. The committee hopes to alleviate ever-increasing college costs by restoring state and federal investments. • Increase Pell Grants. Doing so will make college more affordable for low- and middle-income students. There is also a measure to make Pell Grants available for short-term programs. • Make college loans cheaper. This will help eliminate the burden of student loans by making them easier to pay off. • Hold schools accountable. The Act would crack down on “predatory” for-profit colleges and ensure that colleges are setting students up for success after graduation. • Improve student safety.This measure would introduce stronger accountability in order to track and prevent sexual assault, harassment and hazing. • Helping students academically. The committee wants colleges to better invest in their students by providing better wraparound services. • Increase mandatory funding to HBCUs, TCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions. This final measure would ensure investments to institutions that enroll underserved students. The College Affordability Act fact sheet provides a detailed breakdown of the details for each point.

How Can Students Make College More Affordable

Though the above measures would have a lasting, positive impact on college affordability, the reality is that change in Washington can sometimes take years. With that in mind, there are ways that students can make college more affordable. 1. File the FAFSA every year. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the only way to qualify for federal financial aid. Even if you don’t qualify for a major financial aid break, every student will be eligible for low-interest rate subsidized student loans just by filling out this application. Additionally, federal funding for student loans varies year-to-year. While you may not have qualified in previous years, you may this year. So file that FAFSA. 2. Fill it out as soon as possible after October 1. The FAFSA is made available every year on October 1. The federal government and many states distribute financial aid on a first come, first serve basis. Filing as soon as possible after the FAFSA is made available allows you to take advantage of more financial aid opportunities. 3. Don’t forget about supplemental forms. In addition to the FAFSA, some states and colleges will ask students to complete additional financial aid forms. These forms oftentimes ask for a clearer picture of a student and/or family’s financial circumstances. Filling these out, in addition to the FAFSA, can provide you with more financial aid dollars toward your education. 4. Search for scholarships. Many colleges award merit aid to students that apply; however, college scholarships and financial aid don’t always bridge the gap between what a student can pay and what a student has to pay in order to attend. Outside scholarships can make paying for college easier and less stressful. By simply filling out a profile on Fastweb, students can see scholarships for which they actually qualify. As students consider their scholarship application strategy, they should keep in mind that they more scholarships they apply to, the greater their chances of actually winning. 5. Finally, save for college. While some parents begin saving for college as soon as their children are born, others don’t think about it until they’re in the midst of the college search. Whatever your case, start saving now. It’s never too late to start saving for college. After all, a dollar saved is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow in order to pay for college. Just remember to save in the parent’s name(s) rather than the student’s name. Students can be penalized on the FAFSA by having too much money in their own name, which could limit the amount of financial aid they receive. Until college becomes more affordable, students have to take advantage of the measures already in place in order to pay for school. Fortunately, Fastweb has many of the answers for students and parents searching for ways to make paying for college easier. Check out our college scholarship search advice as well as our expert financial aid tips. We’re here to help!

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