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Letter to the House on college affordability

January 27, 2014

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to offer our views in advance of the January 28 hearing, “Keeping College Within Reach: Sharing Best Practices for Serving Low-income and First Generation Students.”

Investing in high-quality education is the best way to strengthen the middle class and restore the American dream — essential to preparing today’s students to succeed in life and in the competitive global economy of the 21st century. Increasingly, however, students from low-income families are finding higher education financially out of reach.

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. “Seven in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2012 had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 for those with loans,” the Institute for College Access & Success reports in Student Debt and the Class of 2012, published in December 2013.

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. For low-income students and their families, affordable federal student loan programs are essential. Toward that end, NEA believes that:

  • Need-based aid must be increased to restore the purchasing power of Pell grants. 
  • 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 must be encouraged by expanding loan forgiveness programs in critical fields, such as education.  

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 for low-income students needs to be an essential part of our nation’s commitment to educational excellence.  

We thank the Committee for the opportunity to submit these comments.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations