02.10.16

HIGHER ED: Murray Continues Push for College Affordability, Helping More Students Pursue Higher Education

Murray praised WA-state community colleges for helping students transition from higher education to their careers

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered remarks at an event hosted by the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Association of Community Colleges. Murray laid out her priorities for higher education, including making college more affordable, ensuring students from all walks of life have clear pathways into and through higher education, and fostering an education system that works seamlessly for students from early learning all the way through to their career. As she laid out, helping more students further their education is an important part of helping the economy grow from the middle out, not the top down. In her remarks, Murray also highlighted the work that Washington state community colleges are doing to help students succeed.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“There are many reasons why the costs of college has gone up, even at community colleges. But the result has been the same. It has strained the budgets of middle-class families, and it has become harder and harder for students from low-income backgrounds to further their education. In some cases, it prevents students from applying. And it forces many others to drop out before they earn their degree.”

 

“Democrats are focused on this issue, and we recently unveiled our plans to make college more affordable. We want to give students the opportunity to attend community college, tuition free. That’s an investment that will pay off, not just for students and their futures, but also for our nation’s future. Because when more students have the chance to further their education, it strengthens our workforce and helps build our economy from the middle out, not the top down.”

 

“Beyond making college more affordable, another priority for me is making sure students from all walks of life have clear pathways into and through higher education… When students are deciding where to attend, I believe they should have the tools to find out if their college or university will give them a good return on their investment and hard work. And in the HELP Committee, as we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I’ll be pushing to make sure students have access to data like graduation and transfer rates.”

 

“For so many students, higher education is a ticket to the middle class. Community colleges play such an important role in punching that ticket and clearing a path for them to achieve their goals.” 

 

“Working on higher education isn’t just another issue for me. It’s personal. When I was young, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In a few short years, he could no longer work at the five-and-dime store that he ran. Without warning, my family had fallen on hard times. But instead of falling through the cracks, my brothers and sisters and I got a good education at public schools. We went to college with help of what are now known as Pell Grants. And my mom got the skills she needed to find a better paying job through a training program at Lake Washington Vocational School. Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with hard work, we would be able to find our footing and our way into the middle class.”

 

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared:

 

Thank you, Emily, for that great introduction. And thank you for all the wonderful work you do for Edmonds Community College.

 

I recently heard from a young woman named Lia, who goes to Edmonds. Growing up, she watched her mom work two jobs and still manage to go to college full time. She said her mom had to make huge sacrifices to pursue a better life for her family. Now, Lia feels like she’s in a similar boat, struggling with college costs and applying for financial aid.

 

Her mom was a first-generation college student. Now, Lia is the second generation to struggle to make ends meet while earning her degree. And she said she truly hopes that future generations will be able to go to college without worrying about keeping a roof over their heads.

On community college campuses across the country, you are helping students advance their skills in their pursuit for a better life.  But students today face so many obstacles. You see it on your campuses every day.

 

I believe Congress should work to help break down those barriers. So, today, I want to tell you a little bit about what Democrats are focused on. And I’ll share some of what I’ll be pushing for as the Ranking Member of the Senate’s Education Committee.

 

Community colleges have historically been a low-cost and low-debt option. But after financial aid, the net price at community colleges can easily exceed $10,000 a year. And today, more and more students have to take out student loans to cover the full cost of attendance – like books, supplies, and housing.

 

Many community college students struggle to cover even basic necessities. Last year, one study found that thirteen percent of students at community college said they experienced some form of homelessness. And more than half said they went hungry.   

 

There are many reasons why the costs of college has gone up, even at community colleges. But the result has been the same. It has strained the budgets of middle-class families, and it has become harder and harder for students from low-income backgrounds to further their education. In some cases, it prevents students from applying. And it forces many others to drop out before they earn their degree.  

 

Democrats are focused on this issue, and we recently unveiled our plans to make college more affordable. We want to give students the opportunity to attend community college, tuition free. That’s an investment that will pay off, not just for students and their futures, but also for our nation’s future. Because when more students have the chance to further their education, it strengthens our workforce and helps build our economy from the middle out, not the top down.

 

Beyond making college more affordable, another priority for me is making sure students from all walks of life have clear pathways into and through higher education. Community colleges – especially in Washington state – are doing a great job of this. Green River, Highline, Bates College, and Tacoma Community College – and many other campuses near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington – take part in what’s called the Veterans Industry Education program – or VIE-25. That program connects servicemembers with the training and credentials they need, so they’ll qualify for a job once they leave military service. As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I applaud all of your efforts to help veterans transition to furthering their education. 

 

There are many other common-sense steps we can take to create better pathways for students.

 

I fought hard to bring back what’s known as Ability to Benefit to help students who don’t have a high school diploma get back on track. And I’m glad we were successful in restoring that option for students.

Here’s another example. We should do a better job of providing students and families with accurate information as they shop for college.

 

The profile of a typical college student today is quite different than 10 years ago. So called “non-traditional” students have become the new norm. They are more likely to be the first in their family to go to college. And before they enroll, they often already have a good idea of how they want to advance their careers.

 

But right now, families and students aren’t able to access basic – but essential – consumer information on their college or university at the federal level. Things like how much college will cost, average student debt, whether they are likely to graduate or transfer on time, or what they can expect to earn after they graduate. And students often don’t know where to look.

 

When students are deciding where to attend, I believe they should have the tools to find out if their college or university will give them a good return on their investment and hard work. And in the HELP Committee, as we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I’ll be pushing to make sure students have access to data like graduation and transfer rates.

 

Community colleges play such an important role in preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century global economy.

 

This is another opportunity for me to brag on the great work happening in my home state. Washington state has developed the I-BEST program that puts students on a clear path toward their career. And that model has made such an incredible difference for so many students and workers in my state.

 

Last year, at a committee hearing, I asked a graduate of the I-BEST program named Taleah, to share how the program had made such a difference in her life. Taleah said at age 25, she had felt trapped – living from job to job and paycheck to paycheck. Then, she found a flyer for I-BEST at the YWCA. She enrolled in Seattle Central College. And a counselor was with her every step of the way to help her with financial aid, talk her through course catalogs, and to find classes that fit her schedule. She now has a job she loves at a major company in Seattle, and she credits I-BEST with changing her life.

 

That’s the kind of success story your institutions strive for every day. And it’s something I want to help foster in Congress by making sure our education system works seamlessly for students, from preschool all the way through to their career.

 

So here’s what I’ve been working on over the past couple of years.

 

In 2014, I worked on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – also known as WIOA – with Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia. Together, we were able to break through the gridlock that too often dominates here in Congress. That law modernized federal workforce programs.  Now, and in the years to come, it will help our country continue to develop the most skilled, best educated workforce in the world.

 

And, last year, I worked with Chairman Lamar Alexander to finally fix No Child Left Behind. Together, we found a way to set partisanship aside and find common ground. Our new law will help provide all students with a high-quality public education. And, importantly, it will ensure all students can graduate from high school, college and career ready.

 

And, this year, I’m working to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education program. I see Perkins CTE as a bridge between K-12 education and the workforce training programs in WIOA. And in our work to reauthorize Perkins, I want to further strengthen that connection, so students don’t face barriers as they transition from high school to post-secondary education and careers.  I’m looking forward to continuing my conversations on that effort with a bipartisan group of senators and hope to make more progress this year.

 

For so many students, higher education is a ticket to the middle class. Community colleges play such an important role in punching that ticket and clearing a path for them to achieve their goals.  

 

Working on higher education isn’t just another issue for me. It’s personal.

 

When I was young, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In a few short years, he could no longer work at the five-and-dime store that he ran. Without warning, my family had fallen on hard times. But instead of falling through the cracks, my brothers and sisters and I got a good education at public schools. We went to college with help of what are now known as Pell Grants. And my mom got the skills she needed to find a better paying job through a training program at Lake Washington Vocational School. Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with hard work, we would be able to find our footing and our way into the middle class.

 

Today, there are millions of students out there who are struggling with the full cost of college…Who want to stay in school to finish their degree, but aren’t sure how to make it work…Who face insurmountable roadblocks to applying and attending classes…

I want to make sure they have the same opportunity my family did. Thanks to our nation’s community colleges, you’re helping make it possible.

 

I look forward to continuing to be your partner in our shared goal to help more students pursue higher education, prepare our workforce for the 21st century economy, and help our economy grow from the middle out, not the top down. 

 

Thank you.