06.03.15

Murray: Skyrocketing College Costs Create “Insurmountable Roadblocks” for Too Many Students

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a HELP Committee hearing on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Ensuring College Affordability. In her opening remarks, Murray highlighted how the high costs of college create challenges for students wanting to advance their education and gain a foothold into the middle class. Murray outlined ways to help bring down the costs of higher education, including working to leverage federal investments to stem the decline in state support for higher education, protecting need-based grant aid so low and middle-income students aren’t priced out of college, and ensuring students have access to simple, transparent information to make fully informed decisions.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

“For many Americans, higher education can be a ticket to the middle class. And it’s not just important for students and their future – it’s also important for our economy. A highly educated workforce will help our nation compete in the 21st century global economy. So we should work on ways to help more students earn their degree and gain a foothold into the middle class.  I personally know how critical this is because I saw it with my own family… But today, skyrocketing costs can be a major barrier for students to go to college and to stay in school until they complete their degree.”

 

“I was in my home state of Washington a few weeks back, visiting with students at Central Washington University. Many of these students were the first in their families to go to college. They told me about the troubles they and their peers had even just imagining being able to afford college growing up in low-income communities. I’ve heard this over and over again from students and families in my state.”

 

“In our country today, many students are doing everything right. They are working hard in school and they are getting into college. They want to take the next steps to move into the middle class, but the high cost of college creates insurmountable roadblocks.”

 

“I’ve heard some of my colleagues argue that Medicaid and higher college costs are somehow directly linked. Nothing forces states to fund one at the expense of the other.  Ultimately, state budgets – just like the federal budget – are about values and priorities. And state lawmakers have tough choices to make about spending cuts and raising revenue to fund vital priorities like health care and higher education.”

 

“...even as the economy has begun to recover, state investments in higher education have not begun to bounce back fast enough.  I believe this committee should look at ways to leverage federal investments to stem the decline in state support for higher education.”

 

“…we must protect need-based grant aid, so low and middle-income students aren’t priced out of attending college. And students should also have access to simple, transparent consumer information on costs, expected debt and earnings, and available financial aid, so consumers can make fully informed decisions.”

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today.

 

“For many Americans, higher education can be a ticket to the middle class. And it’s not just important for students and their future – it’s also important for our economy. A highly educated workforce will help our nation compete in the 21st century global economy.

 

“So we should work on ways to help more students earn their degree and gain a foothold into the middle class.  I personally know how critical this is because I saw it with my own family.

 

“When I was 15, my family fell on hard times, but because of strong federal investments, my siblings and I were able to get a quality education.  And we were able to afford college with the help of Pell Grants and other federal aid programs.

 

“So I believe we should ensure students continue to have access to the same opportunities that my family did.  But today, skyrocketing costs can be a major barrier for students to go to college and to stay in school until they complete their degree.

 

“I was in my home state of Washington a few weeks back, visiting with students at Central Washington University. Many of these students were the first in their families to go to college. They told me about the troubles they and their peers had even just imagining being able to afford college growing up in low-income communities.

 

“I’ve heard this over and over again from students and families in my state.

 

“Just last week, l met with community college students in Seattle who told me about the challenges of having to hold down two jobs, while also being full-time students, just to keep up with rising tuition, fees, and even rent. And they will still end up with loan debt when they graduate. This places an unfair burden on these students, and their ability to succeed. 

 

“In our country today, many students are doing everything right. They are working hard in school and they are getting into college. They want to take the next steps to move into the middle class, but the high cost of college creates insurmountable roadblocks.

 

“Across the country, average annual tuition at public universities has gone up by more than $2,000 since the recession alone – an increase of nearly 30 percent.

 

“Over the last 20 years, tuition has gone up far faster than inflation, while real family incomes have declined, but our investments in need-based aid haven’t kept up.

“This has made it much more difficult for young people, particularly from low-income families, to complete a college degree. A high ‘sticker price’ can deter some students from even applying to college.

“Quite often, increasing tuition means students have to borrow more and more, saddling them with the crushing burden of student debt.

“According to the Federal Reserve, outstanding student debt is now more than $1.3 trillion. There are now 41 million Americans with federal student loan debt today, up from 28 million in 2007. And seven in 10 college seniors who are graduating from a public or private nonprofit college have student loan debt, with an average of $28,400 per borrower.

 

“Several factors contribute to the increase in college tuition.

“First and foremost, we’ve seen deep state funding cuts at public colleges and universities—which more than three quarters of our students attend. Today, 47 states are spending less per-student on higher education than they did before the recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—and the analysis of one of our great witnesses today.

“When student funding is cut, colleges and universities look to make up the difference with higher tuition, cuts to educational and support services, or both. A recent analysis by Demos found that declining state support is responsible for 100 percent of the increase in tuition at community colleges, and 79 percent at research institutions.

 

“In my home state of Washington, state support per student is down more than 28 percent since the recession. Tuition at several of our four-year universities has increased by more than $5,000, and by more than $1,000 at our community colleges.

“I’ve heard some of my colleagues argue that Medicaid and higher college costs are somehow directly linked. Nothing forces states to fund one at the expense of the other.  Ultimately, state budgets – just like the federal budget – are about values and priorities. And state lawmakers have tough choices to make about spending cuts and raising revenue to fund vital priorities like health care and higher education.

“And even as the economy has begun to recover, state investments in higher education have not begun to bounce back fast enough.  I believe this committee should look at ways to leverage federal investments to stem the decline in state support for higher education.

 

“And there are other ways I believe we should look at to help students and families and to bring down the cost of college.

 

“First, we must protect need-based grant aid, so low and middle-income students aren’t priced out of attending college. And students should also have access to simple, transparent consumer information on costs, expected debt and earnings, and available financial aid, so consumers can make fully informed decisions.

 

“As we embark on a bipartisan process to reauthorize the Higher Education Act we should make sure more students from all walks of life have the opportunity to further their education and secure their ticket to the middle class.

 

“Expanding access to higher education is a crucial part of building an economy that works for all families, not just the wealthiest few.

 

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on ways to make college more affordable. Thank you.”