Higher education is critical for the future of Texas – Texans with college degrees have more opportunities and our state’s economic vitality is dependent upon an educated workforce. Yet President Bush and a Republican controlled Congress increased interest rates on student loans and decreased grant awards, while state legislative leaders have given up their power to set the price of tuition, causing college costs to skyrocket. For the past five years, federal and state policy set by Republicans have paralleled each other and have had the same effect – making college less affordable.

Below a chart of prominent news stories from the past five years documenting how policies of Republican legislative leaders and President Bush at the state and federal level have made college less affordable over the past five years (links to newspaper articles are in blue; you can read these articles on your computer by moving your mouse over each blue link and clicking it with your mouse, which will open the article in a new window on your computer).

News Clips: Short Sighted Policies at State and Federal Level

State Policies Federal Policies
Rising Tuition
In 2003, the Texas Legislature deregulated college tuition at state universities, under which the legislature gave up its power to set tuition and allowed university boards of regents appointed by the governor to set tuition. Designated tuition has risen 112% since 2003. (click here to read “Texas public university tuition up 112% since deregulation”, Fort Worth Star Telegram , June 4, 2008).

Cuts in Student Grants
In 2007, an estimated 16,000 fewer students were receiving TEXAS Grants than in 2003 (click here to read “Coleman: Let’s Make College Affordable,” Austin American Statesman, June 4, 2008)

Private Student Loan Lenders in Scandal
In May 2007, UT-Austin fired its director of financial aid after it was discovered he began recommending a student loan company after he bought stock in the company and had received numbers of “lender treats” like ice cream, happy hours and birthday cakes (click here to read “U. of Texas Fires Officer over Tie to Loan Company,” New York Times, May 15, 2007)

Higher Interest Rates and Cuts in Student Grants
In 2004, the Bush administration and Republican leadership in Congress implemented new eligibility standards cutting Pell Grants, causing nearly 89,000 students who would otherwise receive some sort of Pell Grant funding to receive none (click here to read “Students to Bear More of the Costs of College,” The New York Times, December 23, 2004)

Cuts in Student Grants
In 2006, a Republican-led Congress increased interest rates on Stafford Loans while cutting $900 million in funding for Pell Grants (click here to read “Pell Grants Down, Tuition Up,” Insider Higher Ed, October 25, 2006).

Close Ties Between Private Lenders and GOP Leaders
One of the biggest winners because of rising college costs is the student lending industry. Republican legislators support policies that drive students to private lenders to pay for college, and in turn the student loan industry strongly supports Republicans with campaign contributions. Sallie Mae, a major student loan lender, donated three-fourths of its campaign contributions to Republicans in 2004 and former majority and current minority leader of the House John Boehner once said to a group of student lending executives, “Know that I have all of you in my two trusted hands.” ( click here to read “The student loan rip-off,” Salon.com, May 28, 2007)

Private Student Loan Lenders in Scandal
In 2007, the student loan industry is implicated in scandal for kickbacks they paid to financial aid offices at universities across the country in exchange for placement on preferred lenders lists (click here to read “The Widening College Loan Scandal,” The New York Times, April 8, 2007)

Thankfully, a Democratic Congress earlier this year undid some of the damage President Bush and previous Republican Congresses had done, passing legislation lowering interest rates on Stafford Loans and increasing the maximum Pell Grant amount available to students. That legislation went into effect last week (click here to read “New federal student loan terms take effect,” Washington Post, July 1, 2008).

This spring the Legislative Study Group, a non-partisan House caucus I chair, issued a report outlining some steps Texas could take to make college affordable, like funding universities to bring more of them to top tier status, creating a merit-based scholarship fund that would benefit middle income families and repealing tuition deregulation. (You can read that report by clicking here).

The solutions to make college more affordable aren’t difficult; they simply require the political will to make them happen. Congress acted to make college more affordable earlier this year, and the Texas Legislature needs to do the same. I promise to send you updates on this issue as they develop.

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