As spring approaches, many high school seniors are facing the tough decision of where to go to college next fall. And their families are facing an even harder dilemma: how to pay for it.
Pursing higher education is often a daunting and expensive endeavor, but it has never been more critical to both our students’ futures as well as to our nation’s economic strength. At a time when student loan debt in our country is almost $2 trillion, it’s absolutely vital that students and families have a clear understanding of the cost of a higher education and the assistance that may be available.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend several Cash for College workshops along the Central Coast that provide important information and resources to make college more affordable for families, helping to make some of these tough decisions a little easier. Still, far too often students graduate with overwhelming debt. These burdensome costs for students and families are making a key component of the American Dream — improving ones’ opportunities through education — increasingly difficult for many young people to achieve.
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t always this way. In 1960, California implemented a master plan for our education system. The plan helped shape an incredible education system of community colleges, state universities, and the UCs to educate and equip future generations with the skills they need to compete globally. This system envisioned providing everyone, regardless of income or background, with the means and opportunity to attain a college education.
And while we’re still benefiting from the top-notch faculty and programs that came out of this vision, in the ensuing decades we’ve seen repeated cuts to education budgets and increased costs passed on to families. In fact, since the mid-2000s the cost of tuition at the UCs has more than doubled. Simply put, we cannot allow this trend to continue. I was proud to see Californians take an important step by passing Proposition 30 in 2012, which has helped freeze tuition rates.
An educated workforce not saddled by crippling amounts of student debt is the key to American economic success in the 21st century. We need our students to graduate with the freedom to pursue important jobs in our community, even if they aren’t the highest paying positions. We need our graduates to be able to purchase a car, own a home, start a family — steps that are challenging with burdensome student loan debt. And we certainly need our graduates to be able to pursue research, innovation, and entrepreneurship so that our country can keep up with fast-growing economies around the world. All of this points to greater investments in higher education.
While the federal government doesn’t control tuition costs, we must continue to invest in all students wherever they attend through initiatives like Pell Grants — the main source of federal assistance for higher education. I have proudly supported increasing Pell Grants levels to a historic high of $5,550 annually to help keep up with the costs of college. I’ve also worked hard to keep need-based federal student loan interest rates at a low 3.85 percent.
Moreover, I’ve supported loan repayment programs, such as the “Pay as You Earn” programs, which cap monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of an eligible borrower’s discretionary income, and loan forgiveness programs for students who enter high-need fields. Together these initiatives aim to reduce student — and family — education debt.
We can all agree that a well-educated workforce is crucial to our nation’s global competitiveness now and in the future. That starts with a renewed commitment to invest in higher education, one that I share.
APPLY FOR AID
To access many of these financial aid programs, it is critical for families to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. The deadline to apply is Sunday. More information on assistance can be found at http://studentaid.ed.gov.
U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents the 24th Congressional District.