WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 21, 2017
Today’s hearing is part of our committee’s broader effort to strengthen higher education. We all know and have seen the significant opportunities provided by a postsecondary education. Unfortunately, as we have also seen, realizing the dream of a higher education is becoming increasingly difficult for many individuals across the country.
As Chairwoman Foxx pointed out at a hearing earlier this year, college costs are rising at a rapid rate. In fact, since 2006, average tuition and fees have increased by more than 40 percent at four-year public institutions and by almost 27 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions. Meanwhile, for a variety of reasons, students aren’t completing their education. It is estimated that among students who started college in the fall of 2010, only 55 percent had earned a degree or certificate by 2016. That’s not even four years. It’s six years — with nothing to show for it at the end.
These are just two statistics that help illustrate the challenges individuals face when they consider whether or not they should or can pursue a higher education. They’re also two of the reasons we are working to make higher education more accessible and affordable. One of the ways we can accomplish that goal is by simplifying and improving federal student aid.
Over the years, the federal student aid system has become too complex. Students and their families are forced to navigate six different types of federal student loans, nine different repayment plans, eight different forgiveness programs, and 32 deferment and forbearance options — each with its own rules and requirements. Sounds complicated, right?
Now, imagine you are a student with no background or experience in navigating such financial options and responsibilities. Faced with all of these choices and decisions, some individuals don’t even know where to begin. Others simply give up.
We need to get rid of the complexity. We need to eliminate the confusion students face. And there a number of ways we can do both.
Just yesterday, I introduced a bill — the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act — that would improve the timing, frequency, and content of financial aid counseling. These changes to current policy would help students and their families better understand their options and responsibilities when it comes to paying for college. It’s an idea that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the past, and I’m hopeful it will be part of the discussion as we move forward with efforts to strengthen higher education.
Another idea is streamlining federal aid into one grant program, one loan program, and one work study program — “streamlining” being the operative word there. It’s not about cutting. It’s about cleaning things up — making it easier for individuals to explore their options, find the right school, figure out how to pay for their education, and determine the best way to repay their loans.
These ideas are just two of many solutions that have been proposed. Each makes different reforms, but they all have the same goal: Make the system more efficient and more responsive to the needs of students.
Simplifying federal student aid is one principle in a comprehensive framework that will guide our work to strengthen higher education, but it’s a critical one. Doing so will provide students and their families with a more timely and a clearer picture of the financial assistance they are eligible to receive. It will ensure taxpayer dollars are supporting those students who need help the most. And, perhaps most importantly, it will help more Americans realize that the dream of a higher education is within reach.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and learning more about their ideas for simplifying and improving student aid. I know this discussion will help guide the work ahead as we continue our efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
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