Student loan bill passes Senate, awaits House

By Donald R. Roth Jr.

If it becomes a law, a bill passed by the U.S. Senate Friday would make it easier for college students to get loans.

The bill, which was passed 93-1 by the Senate, would grant a seven year extension to the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The Higher Education Act governs almost all aspects of loans and grants which are available to college students. It also deals with aid to black institutions, libraries and colleges.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Illinois, was intimately involved in parts of the bill. “A better student loan program would expand educational opportunity and invest more in our people,” Simon said. “Opening post-secondary education to all who seek it is, in the end, not so much a gift to them as it is a gift to ourselves.”

One important contribution Simon made to the bill was improving the current loan rehabilitation program, said David Carle, Simon’s press secretary.

When a borrower defaults on a loan, the new payment schedule will reflect the borrower’s new income. This would allow people on welfare who default on their loans to start making payments and qualify for a Pell Grant.

Another Simon provision in the Higher Education Bill would provide students with relief in case they were defrauded by their school or the school shut down, Carle said.

While other bills exclude part-time students, this bill included a provision that would allow part-time students to get Pell Grants for up to five semesters, Carle said.

One of the most impact-oriented measures included in the Higher Education Bill is that it increases annual loan limits in the Stafford Loan Program.

The increase would be from $2,625 to $3,000 for first and second year students and from $4,000 to $5,000 for other undergraduates, Carle said.

Graduate students would be eligible for $2,500 more under the bill, he said.

The increase in money available to students also means an increase in interest rates applied to the loans.

Rates would increase from 8 to 9 percent during the first four years, and would use a variable rate capped at 11 percent up from 10 percent thereafter, Carle said.

Concerns of middle-income families have also been addressed in the bill.

“It would raise the maximum family income that a family of four can earn from $30,000 to $40,000 and still qualify for Pell Grants,” Carle said.

He said the bill also would authorize $700 million for colleges to pay for work-study programs. It would increase the share the federal government pays for work-study programs from 70 percent to 75 percent.

“The most important thing we can do to improve our productivity is to invest in our human resources,” Simon said.

The next step for the bill will be the U.S. House of Representatives.