Peterson says bill makes college more affordable and accessible for rural students

Feb 8, 2008 Issues: Education

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Congressman Collin Peterson yesterday voted for legislation that will tackle the high price of college tuition and remove obstacles that make it difficult for qualified students to go to college.

With a strong bipartisan vote of 354 to 58, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), which will reform and strengthen the nation’s higher education programs to ensure that they operate in the best interests of students and families.  

The bill also addresses needs for rural schools facing declining enrollment and retention issues for educators and administrators.

“There is recognition in this legislation that students and educators in our rural school districts are critical to our country’s workforce challenges,” Peterson said. “The grants, incentives and professional development opportunities address the challenges of our students and school districts in Minnesota ’s Seventh District.”

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act will provide grants to increase enrollment of rural high school graduates in institutions of higher education, create employment pipelines from higher education institutions to the workforce, and provide training for professions of need in rural areas.

The Act also will provide incentives to colleges of education to add a rural focus to their curriculum, such as the skills students need to teach in rural America and the option of completing student teaching hours in rural schools, and professional development for students, current teachers or principals to serve as school administrators in rural areas.

An October 2007 report from the College Board showed that, over the previous five years, Minnesota tuition and fees at public two-year and four-year colleges grew by four percent between 2006-07 and 2007-08. This bill will address these rising costs 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 previously approved by the House to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs. The new provisions include requiring better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans. Together these protections form a Bill of Rights for college consumers, said Peterson.

“Students and their families in Minnesota ’s Seventh District don’t need more obstacles to higher education,” Peterson said. “My hope is that this legislation will improve and streamline the process for everyone.”

In addition, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act will:

Streamline the federal student financial aid application process;
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; and
Strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities.
The legislation is the second major step that the new Democratic Congress has taken to make college more affordable and accessible for all qualified students. Last year, Congress enacted into law a $20 billion increase in college financial aid over the next five years, the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill of 1944.