With tuition costs up significantly at public universities, and with median household incomes flat, families are simply unable to afford the expense of a college education these days, says a new report. U.S. Congressional Democrats seized upon the report Wednesday, vowing to make college affordability a campaign issue this fall.
The report, “Higher Education: Soaring Out of Reach for America’s Families,” by the Campaign for America’s Future, confirms that the cost of tuition for attending a public four-year college went up 40 percent between 2000 and 2005. The study also found that the price tag of a public college education for the average student consumes 25 percent of the median U.S. household income. To afford a private education, families have to fork over 57 percent of their income.
The value of the Pell Grant has diminished in recent decades, and as other sources of funding have dwindled, students are increasingly relying on loans to get through school. Earlier this year, Congress cut $12 billion out of federal student aid programs, in part to finance tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
The average graduate of a four-year college will leave school with $23,600 in student loan debt and an additional $2,000 in credit card debt, according to the report.
Democrats are touting the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act of 2006, a bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and designed to make college more affordable. The bill would cut interest rates on subsidized student loans in half — from a fixed rate of 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent — and cut rates on parent loans for undergraduates from a fixed rate of 8.5 percent to 4.25 percent.
“Education is not only an issue for middle-income families, it is a national security issue as well,” says U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., senior democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “You need to have well-educated, well-trained individuals to have strong national security.
“We have a student loan program that works well for the banks, and not for the students — it is not working for middle-income families, and that is the challenge of our time,” Kennedy says. “The Democrats in the Senate and in the House are strongly committed to maintain affordability for middle-income children and for the sons and daughters of the working poor.”
— By Lelita L. Cannon
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