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US House considers College Affordability Act that could cut student costs

By Kalysa To

Nov. 15, 2019 1:35 a.m.

A new bill may lower the cost of attending college and cut student debt if passed by Congress.

The College Affordability Act was introduced in October in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill proposes lowering the cost of college, improving the quality of education and providing more opportunities and flexibility for college students.

Democratic congressman Bobby Scott is the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, the committee in which the bill was introduced, and represents the third district of Virginia. The bill passed out of the committee Oct. 31 and is now being considered by the House.

Scott said in a press release that the CAA is a necessary response for students and their families as it would cut the cost of college.

“At the same time, it improves the quality of education by holding schools accountable for their students’ success, and it meets students’ individual needs by expanding access to more flexible college options and stronger support – helping students graduate on time and move into the workforce,” Scott said.

Cutting the cost of college includes increasing the value of Pell Grants and simplifying the process for loans, according to a CAA fact sheet. In addition, the CAA proposes greater accountability for colleges by raising standards for college accreditors and providing more services for low-income students and students of color.

The CAA was introduced 11 years after the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which aims to provide educational reform by providing greater resources and financial assistance. It was last reauthorized in 2008.

The University of California has not yet taken a position on the legislation, but it does support greater student accessibility, said Stett Holbrook, a UC spokesperson. He added the UC will continue to work with Congress to further the UC’s HEA reauthorization priorities.

“The University of California supports reforms to federal policy that further access and affordability for all students,” Holbrook said. “UC’s Office of the President is conducting comprehensive analysis of the College Affordability Act and, as such, we have not taken a position on the legislation.”

Tyrone Howard, a UCLA education professor, said he believes the CAA is important because of the growing problem of college debt.

“Students have done the right thing by trying to further their education,” Howard said. “But they can’t move ahead … in terms of, you know, economic mobility because they are so saddled with financial aid debt.”

Aidan Arasasingham, government relations chair for the UC Student Association, said UCSA appreciates the CAA and sees it as a bold first step toward reauthorizing higher education rights, especially in terms of the financial aid system.

“I think what we are really excited about is that the bill would bring long-overdue reform to the federal financial aid system,” said Arasasingham, a third-year global studies student. “And it would increase the awards students can receive both in terms of the amount, but also the lifespan. And not only that, but expand benefits to populations that haven’t had these benefits before, including graduate students.”

Last year, he and dozens of other students from UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council’s external vice president’s office advocated in Washington, D.C., for many of the provisions that are now in the CAA, Arasasingham said.

“We’re really excited that the stories that we brought to Washington, (D.C.), and the solutions that we posed resonated,” Arasasingham said. “It’s a really, really strong first step, but (we need) to make sure that this is a bill that addresses the holistic concerns that students have.”

However, Arasasingham added he wishes the CAA placed more of an emphasis on basic needs such as food insecurity.

“The bill does have certain provisions for (basic needs) that are a good first step,” Arasasingham said. “And I think that with further work on this bill as it goes throughout the congressional process, we’d like to see stronger provisions to expand and lower barriers for food security programs for students.”

Howard said he is not confident that the CAA will ultimately pass because it would mean a large increase in taxes. However, he said he thinks the proposal is desperately needed.

“I think that what taxpayers need to understand is that an investment in our … college grads,” Howard said. “(It) is an investment in our future and I think we have to invest money if we want greater returns in decades to come.”

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