Feds revive law to combat high tuition and loans

Brittany Westerberg

Brittany Westerberg

The annual cost of attending a four-year public university – with tuition, fees and room and board factored in – was $13,589 in 2007-2008, according to the not-for-profit College Board Association. Even after adjusting for inflation, this is 78 percent higher than it was two decades earlier.

This is why the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 – the long-awaited renewal of the Higher Education Act, originally authorized in 1965 – has been hailed as a large success and has enjoyed widespread support from groups nationwide. The law intends to address the soaring price of college and make college more accessible for more Americans.

“College costs are difficult for many families to bear, and this legislation is designed to take some of the pressure off students who want to continue into higher education,” Sen. John Thune said in a press release in August, after the bill passed the House of Representatives. “This legislation provides more transparency in tuition costs for families, and it streamlines the paperwork necessary for students to apply for federal loans. It expands the Pell Grant program for low-income students and provides special tuition incentives to Armed Forces personnel as well as their dependents.”

President George W. Bush signed the act into law on Aug. 14. It includes consumer protections on everything from textbook sales to private student loans.

“? There was some concern, not so much in [S.D.] but in other states, about student loan practices,” Janelle Toman, the Director of Information and Institutional Research for the Board of Regents, said. “[The law] requires institutions and lenders to adopt strict codes of conduct … and provide students more information about options for borrowing under student loan programs.”

It also includes provisions to simplify the FAFSA, expand college tuition-reporting requirements, extend Pell Grant eligibility and recognize that colleges in rural areas like South Dakota have some unique challenges.

While the BOR is happy that this bill has been enacted, Toman said, the legislation is “extremely broad and all-encompassing,” as the act adopted by Congress was 1,500 pages long.

“There has to be a lot of rules and regulations enacted to carry out the terms of the bill,” she said. “I think we’re only beginning to see some of the initial information getting out about it.

Eric Hanson, vice president of the Students’ Association, said he is glad the act has finally been reauthorized.

“Every time the Higher Education Act authorization comes up, it gets delayed,” he said. “Then it’s kind of in limbo until it gets reauthorized. We never know what’s going to be in it when it’s finished.”

From a student’s perspective, Hanson said that while there are good things included in the reauthorization, it could have been better.

“Ultimately, it’s great that we’re moving forward,” he said. “At the same time, it could have been better, but something’s always better than nothing.”

The Senate passed H.R. 4137 by a vote of 83-8. The House passed the act by a vote of 354-58.