H.R. 3221, THE STUDENT AID AND FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT, WOULD INCREASE MAXIMUM PELL GRANT AWARD AND INVESTS $2.55 BILLION IN HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
On Thursday, September 17, 2009, the United States House or Representatives, by a margin of 253 yeas to 170 nays, passed H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). The Senate is scheduled to take up this important legislation later this fall.
SAFRA is Congress’s response to President Obama’s challenge – made earlier this year – to make college dramatically more affordable and to improve early education opportunities so that more American children grow up to be college graduates. Specifically, the legislation will:
- Increase the maximum annual Pell Grant scholarship to $5,550 in 2010 and to $6,900 by 2019 (about 6 million students received the Pell Grant scholarship in 2007-2008);
- Invest $3 billion to bolster college access and completion support programs for students;
- Invest $2.55 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions to provide students with the support they need to stay in school and graduate;
- Strengthen the Perkins Loan program, a campus-based program that provides low-cost federal loans to students, by providing the program with more reliable forms of credit from the federal government and expanding the program to include significantly more college campuses;
- Provide loan forgiveness for members of the military who are called up to duty in the middle of the academic year;
- Keep interest rates low on need-based – or subsidized – federal student loans by making the interest rates on these loans variable beginning in 2012 (nationwide about 5.5 million students borrow these loans each year; these interest rates are currently set to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in 2012);
- Make it easier for families to apply for financial aid by simplifying the FAFSA form (in 2003-2004, over 1.5 million college students who likely were eligible to receive Pell Grants didn’t apply for financial aid because they found the FAFSA form too confusing);
- Create a new competitive grant program for community colleges to improve instruction, work with local employers, improve their student support services, and implement other reforms that will lead to a college degree, certificate or industry recognized credential to help fulfill local workforce needs;
- Increase the number of low income children entering kindergarten prepared to succeed by reforming state standards and practices for birth-to-five early learning programs; and
- Provide school districts with funds for school modernization, renovation, and repair projects that will create healthier, safer, and more energy-efficient teaching and learning climates.
We must now urge the Senate to act to swiftly pass this legislation to make higher education more accessible and more affordable to more American students!