The U.S. Senate passed a measure Thursday that supporters say will make it more affordable for Americans to go to college. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, is one of the backers of the "College Cost Reduction Act." Harkin talked with reporters about the bill prior to its passage.
Harkin says the bill will increase the amount of Pell Grants, will increase the income level at which students automatically qualify for a maximum Pell Grant, it will encourage public service by providing loan forgiveness for graduates who go into fields such as teaching, social work and public aid lawyers. In addition to increasing Pell Grants, the bill caps federal student loan payments at 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income.
Harkin says without adequate federal assistance, many students have had to rely on student loans with higher interest rates. He says Iowa students who graduate from a four-year school have an average debt of $22,727, the second highest rate in the country. Harkin says the College Cost Reduction Act will reduce many Iowa students’ debt by cutting excess subsidies to the private loan program by 18-billion dollars and channeling those savings into Pell Grants, which students do not have to repay.
Harkin says the House has passed similar legislation and the differences between the two will have to be worked out. The fate of the bill is still in question though, as President Bush has threatened to veto it.