House Democrats propose College Affordability Act

Act aimed at increasing affordability, expanding access to college

House Democrats proposed the College Affordability Act Oct. 15. According to the Education and Labor Committee website, the act is a “comprehensive overhaul of the higher education system” aimed at lowering costs and expanding educational access for college students.

The Tech joined a press call with Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) Oct. 28 to discuss the act.

“The rising cost of college has put an affordable quality degree out of reach for too many Americans, and as a result, a growing number of students are regrettably questioning the value of higher education. Yet, research makes it clear that a college education remains the surest path to financial security and a rewarding career,” Scott said, citing that on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn $1 million more than high school graduates during their careers.

The act has three main purposes: to lower college costs for students and families, improve college accountability and campus climate, and expand educational access for students from marginalized communities. 

The act aims to increase federal and state investment in higher education. Scott said this includes “the single largest increase in the value of Pell Grants since they were created in 1965,” which will result in fewer student loans. Hayes said the federal-state partnership “will drive states to reinvest in their public universities, which will eventually cut the cost of tuition.” 

“For those that do take out loans, the bill makes those loans cheaper to take out, simpler to understand, and easier to pay off,” Scott said, noting that these measures benefit both private and public college students. The bill will replace the current complex loan repayment system with one fixed repayment plan and one income-based repayment plan.

Hayes said the bill “requires colleges to counsel students on the cost of borrowing, so it forces full disclosure between the institution and the student in a way that we’re not seeing right now.” 

Scott said the act will increase the accountability of colleges by “cracking down on schools that defraud students, veterans, and taxpayers.” The bill will block funding for colleges whose students have high loan default rates and colleges that “spend too much money on marketing and lobbying, and too little on educating the students.”

Scott said the act will also increase access to “flexible college options” while expanding on-campus services such as childcare, career advising, and grants to support students during financial emergencies. It will increase federal support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. By providing funding to states that make community college tuition-free, the act will expand educational access for low-income students.

Scott said the act will benefit work-study eligible students by promoting “paid internships in their line of study, so that when they graduate they’ve actually got experience in a job related to their career.”

Additionally, the bill includes a provision to block the changes to Title IX proposed by Secretary of the Department of Education Betsy DeVos last November. Scott said DeVos’s Title IX rule “has too much of a blame-the-survivor aspect to it” and believes the new bill will “strengthen the prevention of campus sexual assault.”

The act is expected to cost $400 billion over the next ten years. Scott said that the Education and Labor Committee is working with the Ways and Means Committee to secure funding without cutting other education programs such as school nutrition and Title I.

“Two years ago, under Republican leadership, [the House] passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut. If they were able to find $1.5 trillion without paying for it, we ought to be able to find $400 billion. It’s a matter of priorities,” Scott said, adding that a tax cut repeal could potentially help fund the act.

“Fixing present law is half the cost of the bill,” Scott continued, citing the example of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for federal student loan borrowers who work in public service jobs. 

Scott said that under the current system, 99 percent of PSLF loan recipients are denied their discharge. The act will remedy this by broadening PSLF eligibility and ensuring loan forgiveness for those previously denied it.

“This bill will open access to opportunities for so many people who see college as a pathway to success. It will help first-generation college students navigate their pathway through college, and not be burdened with debt that they can’t understand,” Hayes said.