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Letter to the House on Post-Secondary Education

April 23, 2013

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to offer the following views in connection with the April 24 hearing, “Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families and Taxpayers.” 

NEA believes that anyone who is qualified and interested in post-secondary education should have the opportunity to obtain it, regardless of ability to pay. To make informed decisions about what institution to attend and how best to finance post-secondary education, students need transparent, accurate and relevant information. Such information must meet the needs of part-time and mid-career students with significant employment and family responsibilities, as well as “traditional” full-time students. Specifically, NEA supports:

  • Low student/faculty ratios. Educators must have the resources they need to prepare and present instruction, as well as to work with students directly. 
  • Investments that benefit students directly. We know that the expertise and guidance of full-time faculty and staff encourage students to persist and complete college. Further, a lack of advising staff deprives students of counselors who can help them navigate course requirements so they graduate sooner.   
  • Transparent information about relative value. Overall, public institutions provide high-quality post-secondary education at a fraction of the cost of most private institutions. We urge the Congress to take into account recent cost increases at public institutions that are the result of state and local budgetary and economic decisions in which they have no say.
  • Full disclosure of rising costs. As we noted in an earlier letter to the Committee, college costs have risen nearly 600 percent since the 1980s—nearly double the rate at which healthcare costs have risen, triple the rate at which the earnings of middle-class families have risen, and five times the rate at which the earnings of low-income families have risen. A recent report from the Institute for College Access & Success, Student Debt and the Class of 2011, estimates that “two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 among those with debt.” 
  • Affordable federal student loan programs. Need-based aid must be increased to restore the purchasing power of Pell Grants. In addition, student loans must be made more affordable by keeping interest rates low, limiting the percentage of income spent on student loan repayment, and reinstating the refinancing of existing loans. Public-service careers should be encouraged by expanding loan forgiveness programs in critical fields, such as education.  

The above goals will be undermined if student loan rates are allowed to double, as they are scheduled to do at the end of June. President Obama’s recently released budget for 2014 proposes a long-term solution to the problem, but Congress cannot delay action on student loan rates until a budget is passed. At a minimum, our nation’s students need a short-time fix that provides the certainty they need to plan for the fall semester.

At the federal level, the switch to direct loans has saved students and taxpayers money, and helped make college affordable. The states, however, need to do more to avoid shifting costs to students and their families. Between school years 2011 and 2012 alone, state support declined by a whopping 7.6 percent—the biggest drop in at least half a century. (Source: Grapevine Project, Center for the Study of Education Policy, Illinois State University, 2012).

Congress passed the original GI bill because it recognized that higher education is good for students, good for the economy, and good for society at large. More contemporary evidence from recent OECD reports on education around the globe demonstrates that is still the case. Making college affordable needs to be an essential part of our nation’s commitment to educational excellence.  

We look forward to working with you to strengthen the federal student loan programs that make it possible for millions of students all across America to go to college and travel the path to prosperity.  

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations