Obama grants more student possibilities
As more and more students prepare to walk across their high school graduation stage, President Barack Obama is working to make sure they get the chance to march at a college graduation as well, through the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Melody Barnes, Obama's domestic policy adviser and director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday held an open-for-questions session about the act.
Duncan said the act is important because it gives more students the opportunity to not only be able to get into college and afford it, but for them to actually be able to finish and graduate with less debt.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically increase money, put billions of dollars behind college students who are working hard, almost $10 billion for childhood education, and to do without going back to taxpayers for a dime," he said.
The act, which already passed the House of Representatives, is awaiting action from the Senate, Duncan said.
The act would make sure the maximum Pell Grant, which has doubled since the Obama Administration took office last year, is secure. It's amount pays with inflation, Barnes said.
"That is a critical bill," she said. "One of the things that it does in the front end is it makes sure that we educate our youngest citizens, [and] that we're educating small children. But on the other end of the spectrum, it makes sure that we are doing the best for students who want to go to college — to a four-year or a two-year institution."
It would also introduce an access and completion fund, which not only works to get a student into college, but ensures they can complete it with the help of financial aid, she said.
"We want to make sure that students who start college are able to complete their college education, so we provide support and incentives to institutions to make sure that that happens," Barnes said.
It would also expand the low-cost Perkins Loan program, she said. While most student loans have an interest rate of 10 percent or more, the Perkins Loan offers student loans that cost about 5 percent.
Switching from a subsidized-lending program to a direct-lending program would pay for the program, Barnes said.
"[Direct lending] is more efficient, and it saves taxpayers money because we are no longer providing subsidies to do what the government can do more efficiently and more effectively," she said.
The program has the potential to save $87 billion, Barnes said.
"We think that this is a smart use of the money, a great investment for the money and something that we can do to help all of our students and make sure that we meet the president's goal by the highest proportion of graduates by the year 2020," she said.
Duncan said if students are having family issues, they could talk to their financial aid counselors, because they have the power increase their financial aid packages depending on the circumstances.
"The time to go to college has never been so important, it's never been so expensive and all of you know our families have not been in this kind of financial [instability] in a long time," he said.
Some students agree with the act, arguing college has become ridiculously expensive.
"I don't think anybody can really afford college — I think you just learn how to finance college," said School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Jon Lefferts.
School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Mike Stagnitta said as an out-of-state student, paying for college has become a difficult task for his family.
"I'm on an athletic scholarship, and I'm still paying a lot," he said.
Stagnitta said if this bill will help make college more accessible to students, he supports the president's vision.
The Rutgers University Student Assembly will be introducing a resolution to encourage students and the University to support the SAFRA bill at their next meeting.