Mar 30, 2006

(Washington D.C.)- U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) today delivered the following statement on the Republican failure to address the ballooning cost of higher education in America. Levin opposed the reauthorization of the Republican higher education plan because it failed to reverse earlier cuts to student aid, while doing nothing to make college more accessible nor affordable. As a result of this misguided approach, a college education will become even harder to obtain for thousands of Michiganders needing to secure a post-secondary degree given current economic conditions. The Republican approach to higher education puts tax cuts for the very rich ahead of the needs of working families illustrating just how out of touch the Republican-controlled Congress has become.

Below are Mr. Levin's remarks:

Mr. Speaker,

We stand here today with a historic opportunity to improve higher education in this country. The average tuition and fees for four-year public colleges have risen over 40% since 2001. The average student now leaves school with $17,500 in debt. Above anything else, it is absolutely essentially that any legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act help make a college education more affordable, so that we can expand this great opportunity to more young people across the country. I know this issue is immensely important to many of my constituents in Michigan.

Unfortunately, the misnamed College Access and Opportunity Act of 2005 does absolutely nothing to reduce the costs of a college education. When Pell Grants were first enacted to help low-income families, it covered 72% of the average cost of a four-year public college, today it pays for only 30%. This bill would increase the maximum amount a Pell Grant could cover by a pathetic $200 while the presidents proposed budget continues to flat fund this vital program.

It is now just two months after this Republican Congress voted to cut federal student aid by $12 billion the largest cut in the history of the program. Most of the cuts in mandatory spending in that bill were generated by cutting back on excessive lender fees on student loans. Yet instead of investing this additional revenue into scholarships and reductions in student loan fees, Republicans chose to put this money towards tax cuts for the super wealthy.

At a time when we are faced with fierce global competition from countries like India and China, it absolutely essential that we invest in higher education. Last year China graduated more English-speaking engineers than we graduated here the United States. I wonder how it is that the majority would have us believe that an investment in tax cuts for the very rich would help us to remain an economic superpower.

A report by Michigans Lt. Governor John Cherrys Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth spelled out how Michigans economic future is directly linked to our ability to accelerate the completion of degrees of higher education. Two-thirds of the jobs created in the next decade will require post-secondary education and training. I wonder how it is that the majority believes that cutting student loans will make it easier for the thousands affected by the manufacturing jobs crisis in Michigan.

Republicans here in Congress would have us believe that $12 billion in cuts to the student loan program and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act are unrelated. I say they couldnt be more out of touch. 

Democrats have offered an alternative. This substitute would begin to reverse the damaging cuts made to student aid by cutting interest rates on loans for low and middle income students in half starting in July of 2006. This would lower the cost of college by $2.4 billion for students and their families. This measure is a down payment on the future of our nations students who are, after all, the key to the success of our nation in the days that come. I will vote against this harmful legislation today, and in favor of the Democratic substitute.