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July 31st, 2008
Higher Education Act Will Help Millions of Students and Families
Washington, D.C. – Today, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to address the soaring price of college tuition and strengthen the nation’s higher education programs to ensure that they operate in the best interests of students and their families.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (H.R. 4137), is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the primary law aimed at expanding college access for low and middle-income students.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, included language in the bill.

“High college prices and other obstacles are putting a college degree further out of reach for our students,” said Grijalva.  “The Higher Education Opportunity Act will reform our higher education system so that it operates in the best interests of students and keeps our promise of making college more affordable for America’s low and middle-income families”.

The bill includes several provisions drafted by Rep. Grijalva, including establishing a demonstration program and Commission on instructional materials accessibility for college students with print-disabilities and expanding the eligibility requirements for Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants to part-time students and legal permanent residents. Rep. Grijalva also included an amendment to change the cohort default rate (CDR) calculation window for student loans. This would require student loan counseling by lenders, the Department of Education, and colleges on appropriate repayment options for students.

The bill addresses the rising price of education by encouraging colleges to rein in price increases, ensuring that states maintain their commitments to higher education funding, and providing students and families with consumer friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases. The legislation also strengthens provisions to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs. The reauthorization includes language to require better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans.

“The rising cost of a college education means that students, now more than ever, must be informed about their decisions as they relate to living expenses and borrowing for education” Grijalva replied.  “This bill will add a number of mechanisms to aid students in making these choices, including a provision I worked hard to add that will improve the way cohort default rates are calculated.  These changes, though more modest than I had hoped, will encourage schools and lenders to provide better financial literacy to guide students with post-college debt.”

The Higher Education Opportunity Act will:

    Make textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester; Allow students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships; Strengthen college readiness and support programs for minority and low-income students; Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families; Improve safety on college campuses and help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster; Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities; Strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities; Expand funding for graduate student programs at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) ; and Strengthen TRIO and GEAR UP programs to help prepare low-income, first generation students for college.
The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the legislation this week; if passed, the bill will be sent to the President’s desk for his signature. If enacted, this would be the first time the Higher Education Act was reauthorized since 1998. The current law expired in 2003.

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