01.18.18

Higher Education Act: Murray Calls for Making Financial Aid Process Simple and Transparent in Ways that Increase College Affordability and Ease Burden of Debt for Students Nationwide

In hearing, Murray emphasizes the importance of financial aid for helping students achieve higher education

 

The Higher Education Act is due for reauthorization, Murray calls for a comprehensive, bipartisan reauthorization

 

Murray: “By simplifying the financial aid process & making it more transparent we can help more students afford higher education—and lower barriers for those who couldn’t attend college otherwise.”

 

(Washington, D.C.) –Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on Financial Aid Simplification and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. This is the second of a series of hearings regarding reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

 

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Murray focused on the importance of financial aid for helping low-income and first generation students attain higher education.

 

“We can all agree—navigating the financial aid process and the student loan repayment system are just some of the many challenges students are facing. They also struggle to afford housing, textbooks, child care, and more….so, in order to make a meaningful impact for our students, we must pass a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that address all of these challenges simultaneously. Anything less is a disservice to our students.”

 

Senator Murray also warned that the Department of Education’s inability to fully implement all of the guardrails Congress agreed to in the Every Student Succeeds Act may derail the good-faith negotiations on the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

 

More key excerpts from Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

“We can all agree—navigating the financial aid process and the student loan repayment system are just some of the many challenges students are facing. They also struggle to afford housing, textbooks, child care, and more. Many of our low-income and first generation students have a difficult time getting through the door in the first place. And the rise of discrimination, harassment, and violence on campuses means too many students are worried more about their safety—than their education.  So, in order to make a meaningful impact for our students, we must pass a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that address all of these challenges simultaneously. Anything less is a disservice to our students.”

 

“I hope we can all agree that the purpose of our financial aid programs is to help open the doors of opportunity and higher education for students who feel those doors have been shut. We must acknowledge that simplification cannot mean elimination of aid—especially as college costs continue to rise. We should be reducing the barriers facing students at every stage of financial aid: before they apply, while they are enrolled, and after graduation.”

 

“Far too many students are held back from even applying to schools because it is simply not affordable. Navigating our complex financial aid system can be overwhelming— especially for first generation students. Financial aid offers can be confusing and impossible to compare—as there is no required standard format or terms. And high school counselors are few and far between. Nationally there is approximately one high school counselor for every 500 high school students. Students need more help and more transparent information.”

 

“We must help the millions of student loan borrowers struggling to manage student debt with few resources that have their best interests in mind. Borrowers are experiencing delays, errors, mismanagement of their loans—and are often getting conflicting and inaccurate information. And new research shows that a crisis of students defaulting on their loans could be getting worse. Simply consolidating federal loans and grants would not address these deep-seated problems. We need sweeping improvements so servicers are held accountable and students know where to go for help; that repayment is simple, and relief is within reach.”

 

 

Full text below of Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander.

 

“And thank you to our witnesses today.

 

“I look forward to your perspectives on how simplifying federal financial aid and improving transparency can help more students attend and afford higher education.

 

“Before we begin, I want to discuss our nation’s K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act because it’s important to consider the implementation of our last education law as we start to update this one.

 

“Almost everyone agreed that No Child Left Behind was badly broken, so Chairman Alexander and I agreed to work together to write a law giving states more flexibility, while maintaining strong federal guardrails to help ensure no student falls through the cracks.

 

“However—Secretary DeVos’ implementation of our bipartisan law has proved problematic. The Department of Education is approving state plans that do not comply with all of ESSA’s guardrails and issuing waivers of the law before it is fully implemented.  

 

“Now I know Chairman Alexander and the Republicans who worked on ESSA are just as proud of that law as I am and I would think they would want to see this law implemented as we intended and oppose waiving provisions before the law could even be fully implemented by states.

 

“The waivers are also being approved without full transparency provided to Congress or—more importantly—the public. It would be a shame if Republicans refused to stand up to this Administration when they disregard the law.

 

“I appreciate the Chairman’s willingness to meet with the Department on these issues, but it is imperative we keep these discussions going.

 

“I hope the Chairman and my colleagues across the aisle will join me in advising the Department to implement ESSA as Congress intended.

 

“Which brings me back to the Higher Education Act. If we can’t trust that our good-faith, bipartisan work on our last education law can be implemented well—how can we work together on this bill? 

 

“That is a question we are all going to have to grapple with in the months ahead.

 

“Nonetheless—I am hopeful and optimistic we can work together to put the Department on the right path and that these conversations will be instrumental in maintaining good faith and confidence in our bipartisan approach as we begin to reauthorize the HEA.

 

“We can all agree—navigating the financial aid process and the student loan repayment system are just some of the many challenges students are facing. They also struggle to afford housing, textbooks, child care, and more.

 

“Many of our low-income and first generation students have a difficult time getting through the door in the first place. And the rise of discrimination, harassment, and violence on campuses means too many students are worried more about their safety—than their education.

 

“So, in order to make a meaningful impact for our students, we must pass a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that address all of these challenges simultaneously. Anything less is a disservice to our students.

 

“Now—I’m pleased we are continuing our conversation about simplifying financial aid and increasing the transparency of how much college will cost for our families.

 

“But I hope we can all agree that the purpose of our financial aid programs is to help open the doors of opportunity and higher education for students who feel those doors have been shut.

 

“We must acknowledge that simplification cannot mean elimination of aid—especially as college costs continue to rise.

 

“We should be reducing the barriers facing students at every stage of financial aid: before they apply, while they are enrolled, and after graduation.

 

“Now I want to go into each of these just a bit more.

 

“First—far too many students are held back from even applying to schools because it is simply not affordable. 

 

“Navigating our complex financial aid system can be overwhelming— especially for first generation students. Financial aid offers can be confusing and impossible to compare—as there is no required standard format or terms.

 

“And high school counselors are few and far between. Nationally there is approximately one high school counselor for every 500 high school students. Students need more help and more transparent information.

 

“Second—I believe both our federal aid system, and schools and universities need to play a bigger role in helping enrolled students understand the complex maze of eligibility requirements for their financial aid.

 

“And we should be providing students with the support they need to maintain their financial aid.

 

“Unfortunately—some colleges are part of the problem—by lowering students’ financial aid after the first year even as their tuition prices go up, a classic ‘bait and switch’ that leads to many students dropping out when they can no longer afford their education.

 

“And finally—we must help the millions of student loan borrowers struggling to manage student debt with few resources that have their best interests in mind.

  

“Borrowers are experiencing delays, errors, mismanagement of their loans—and are often getting conflicting and inaccurate information.

 

“And new research shows that a crisis of students defaulting on their loans could be getting worse. Simply consolidating federal loans and grants would not address these deep-seated problems.

 

“We need sweeping improvements so servicers are held accountable and students know where to go for help; that repayment is simple, and relief is within reach.

 

“So—I am glad we are having this conversation—and I look forward to hearing from each of our witnesses.

 

“By simplifying the financial aid process and making it more transparent we can help more students afford higher education—and lower barriers for students who couldn’t attend college otherwise.

 

“But these challenges are not singular, so in order to truly help students, we must tackle all of the challenges in higher education—and negotiate a full and comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

 

“Thank you.”

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