Updated: May 22, 2019
Underserved college students get the help they need from a retooling of the Higher Education Act, which makes accessing funds more streamlined.
By Kimberly Linares, Staff Writer
With neutral negotiations underway in the Senate, Congress appears poised in rewriting the Higher Education Act after a decade long of not doing so.
The law encompasses student loans, accreditation and completion initiatives, but it’s overall intent is to increase college access to underserved students. Such updates would bring about changes in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that include a simplified version of the application, while also making sure that the Pell Grants distributed to low-income students is consistent with the rising cost of college and lastly increasing the federal oversight for higher education institutions. The reason as to why lawmakers are so determined in updating the educational law is because of the belief that college, the affordability and access to it is in need of some crucial adjustments.
The U.S. House of Representatives demonstrate their concerns towards the inevitable renewal of the Higher Education Act (H.E.A.) through the Education and Labor Report that was recently published. This report tackles higher education problems towards struggling college students. This committee is led by Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia, which begins the report with “Arguing that though higher education has its issues, a college degree still packs a significant value.”
The report titled, “Don’t Stop Believin” (In the Value of a College Degree) provides detailed information on the rising cost of college education, the proven benefits of college, the importance of receiving quality education and confronting racial and economic inequity among college students. While also making presence of the principles for reauthorizing the H.E.A. which include expanding access and improving affordability for higher education.
“Rather than diminishing the value of a college degree, we should recognize that all students should have access to the substantial, financial and social benefits that come with a quality higher education,” said Scott in an emailed statement to the Atlantic.
Today’s college population is diverse in the sense that you will find first generation college students, working adults and part-time students looking for educational attainment despite hardships.
Nearly half of all first-generation college students in the United States attend a community college, according to a February 2018 study from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Studies. As of 2017, 44 percent of Hispanic undergraduates were enrolled at a community college, while 35 percent of black students and 21 percent of whites made part of the population.
The numbers, the report says, speak for themselves. “Two out of three jobs are filled by individuals who have at least some college education,” it reads.
From 2015-16 through 2018-19, the average published tuition and fees for a full-time student at public two-year institutions nationally was $3,660, compared with $10,230 at public four-year colleges. The average net price, however, was $400, meaning that grants and tax benefits covered a portion of other expenses for the average full-time community college student — less than they had from 2009-10 through 2014-15 according to College Board.
“I am a full-time student and pay for my schooling with the help of financial aid and whatever is not covered I work part-time to help cover my basic needs,” says Karen Velasco, a third-year student at Valley College.
Students enroll at community colleges for a variety of reasons. One important advantage of community colleges over four year institutions is cost. Given that community colleges support such a diverse community they provide flexible schedules that enable students to continue working while obtaining a degree or certificate. Not to mention that most community colleges are accessible.
“My families support encourages me to do better and work harder. They try to help and support me in the best way possible by giving me positive feedback and acknowledging that I can achieve my educational goals,” says Daisy Cabrera, a second-year student at Valley.
The ending of this report states that reauthorization of the H.E.A can strengthen the postsecondary system, ensuring multiple pathways for students to obtain post secondary degrees so that the U.S. can continue to produce a well-educated workforce ready for the challenges of a modern global economy.