House student loan bill a good first step, but more must be done

When Democrats stormed into power on Capitol Hill after the November elections, one of the issues that incoming legislators vowed to address early on was that the monstrous costs of higher education that drain the pockets of millions of Americans every year.

Lawmakers recently followed through on that promise, as on Jan. 18 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would cut interest rates on subsidized federal loans to students from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over the next five years. About 5.5 million students receive these loans each year.

The passage of this bill is undoubtedly a positive move forward in the struggle against the constantly rising costs of higher education in the United States that prevents many of the nation's eligible, bright and promising young people from receiving the college education that is becoming increasingly necessary to achieve any level of financial success.

The inflationary trends of higher education in recent years has even outpaced that of the explosive health care sector, and is a social barrier that holds back many of the nation's underprivileged from emerging from the cycle of poverty. We've moved beyond the days when the most elite institutions were viewed as beyond the reach of working-class families. Today, even public colleges and universities are often seen as outside the realm of feasibility for many Americans as state budgets have trimmed the amount of money available to these schools, forcing tuition increases.

Despite the positive impact that the bill would have should it become law, there is undoubtedly far more that Congress must do to stem the tide of rising tuition costs. While institutions cannot be ordered to keep their tuition down, Congress does have the option of increasing the grants which are awarded to college students, specifically the Pell grants which are given to the neediest. Raising the maximum Pell grant from $4,050 to $5,100 was one of the specific goals mentioned by Democrats during the election, and it must not be overlooked. Other options include increasing the tax deductions that parents sending their children to college are entitled to, and reducing interest rates on loans that parents take out to pay for their children's college education.

The danger is that the House may consider the bill's passage as the fulfillment of their campaign promises and simply move on to other matters of national importance without readdressing the issue. This is especially pertinent given the slim likelihood of the bill's passage into law, as it faces opposition by the White House and a more comprehensive bill that has been introduced in the Senate that is likely to further complicate the situation.

Despite this, we must make our representatives know that while the bill is a positive step, it must not be the complete realization of the promise that helped put Democrats back into power: to help struggling Americans overcome the mountainous financial burden that the higher education institution has placed on them.

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