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An "A+" College Affordability Act

February 11, 2008
Weekly Columns

In the next few months, soon-to-be high school graduates across the country are going to be weighing their college education options.  One of the most practical deciding factors for most families and students is the cost of tuition at prospective schools.  But the search for an affordable education isn't limited to just high school students.  Adult education programs are being offered by more universities but many people are finding the costs difficult to afford among their day-to-day living expenses.  While there are alternative funding mechanisms such as scholarships, grants and financial aid, students of all ages are finding themselves in a financial fix when it comes to paying for classes.
Last week the House of Representatives passed a new piece of legislation that will make college easier to access, more affordable, and more accountable - the College Opportunity and Affordability Act.  This bill garnered bipartisan support in part because it calls for consumer protections and "sunshine," by asking colleges to clearly disclose tuition costs and available financial aid.  Instructions in the legislation also call for the Department of Education to provide easy-to-read, accurate financial aid information on their website.  This will give potential students a one-stop-shop for financial assistance data and make it easier for families to compare their options.
The bill also addresses a complaint that is heard from most college students - college textbooks are too expensive and prices are rising every year.  According to statistics compiled by the Public Interest Research Group's Higher Education Project, prices for textbooks have gone up four times the rate of inflation since the year 1994.  To combat that, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act will ask colleges to notify students of book prices and ask publishing companies to make book pricing information available to professors upfront.  Many students are paying for their textbook costs out of pocket, but with the bill's adjustments in place, textbook purchasing will be less of a burden for students and their families.
Another important component of the bill is its commitment to update existing programs to meet the changing needs of America's student populations.  I have always been a strong supporter of two such programs, the TRIO and GEAR UP initiatives.  These programs deserve to be strengthened and reauthorized by this bill because they have helped a number of low-income students have greater access to higher education in Oklahoma.  TRIO programs are effective and working in the Fourth District and across the country.  I am committed to protecting these programs and making sure that more students are given the opportunity to enter the world of higher education.

As a father and a former college instructor, I know the struggles that parents and students face when trying to choose a college.  There are many factors that families have to consider, but their final decisions are often dictated by the financial bottom lines.  By strengthening higher education and empowering consumers through this relevant legislation, college opportunities can be more affordable and accessible for everyone.