News Releases

Senator Murray Helps Pass Critical Legislation that Makes College More Affordable and Accessible for Washington State Students

Jul 31 2008

Comprehensive legislation now headed to President contains Murray provisions to help homeless and foster care students, green campuses, and improve literacy training

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voted to help pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which reauthorizes many of the federal government's higher education programs. The Higher Education Act has not been reauthorized since last decade, in 1998.  The bill is now headed to the President for his signature. As a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Murray worked to help compose the legislation and included several provisions she has authored that will benefit students and families. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 83-8 after passing the House of Representatives earlier in the day and will now go to the President.

Bill Details

"With the economy sagging and college costs continuing to rise, this bill can't come a moment too soon for our state's students and families," said Senator Murray. "By taking real steps to make college more affordable, simplify the student loan process, and provide accountability for skyrocketing college costs, this bill addresses the most pressing concerns of those struggling to afford college. With every family cutting back on costs, we have to ensure that the ability for young people to access and afford college is never sacrificed."

The legislation passed today focuses on improving higher education affordability, accessibility and accountability by: 

  • Raising the maximum Pell grant authorization to $8,000 over 6 years and including year-round Pell grants as an option for students,
  • Simplifying the student financial aid form (or FAFSA) and reducing it to only 2 pages,
  • Holding schools and states accountable for rising costs by providing on-line information on tuition and fees at every college to help students compare options, 
  • Improving academic and support programs available to students in preparation for college and once they are on campus, 
  • Improving teacher preparation programs and encouraging partnerships with high need K-12 school districts,
  • Shining a public light on student lender practices to end any conflicts of interest between schools and lenders and to make student interests a priority, and 
  • Ensuring that our veterans can return smoothly to affordable higher education when they return from serving our country.

Senator Murray also included improvements that she has championed in the Senate including:

  • The University Sustainability Program (formerly the Higher Education Sustainability Act) which provides funds to help campuses go green and to help students learn about environmental and energy concepts across all fields of study, for a greener future workforce.  
  • Improvements to the GEAR UP and TRIO programs to increase student access to college – including new attention to homeless and foster care students within these programs to ensure those students receive the supports they need.  
  • Stronger training in literacy instruction for college or graduate students in teacher preparation programs so they can incorporate reading instruction into all types of courses across content areas.

Community Colleges

The legislation passed today includes important new programs to help students persist in community college and go onto successful careers. These programs include: Pilot Programs to Increase College Persistence and Success to support at-risk students in enrolling and completing a postsecondary degree; Business Workforce Partnerships for Job Skill Training in High Growth Occupations or Industries to strengthen ties between college course offerings and workforce needs; the Jobs to Careers program to assist colleges in improving bridges from college courses to careers; and College Partnership Grants to improve articulation agreements between community colleges and other institutions of higher education.

Senator Murray has been working hard to continue to ensure that students have access to community colleges. In June, Senator Murray introduced legislation to end discrimination against community college students in the student lending process.

Diploma Mills

"Diploma Mills" are organizations that awards degrees and diplomas to individuals that have completed substandard or no academic study. The legislation passed today requires the Secretary of Education to collaborate with a number of federal agencies to prevent, identify, and prosecute diploma mills.  It also requires public information to go out so that people are aware of the issue and can avoid them. Recent reporting by the Spokesman Review has investigated the widespread awarding of these fraudulent degrees.

"This legislation takes important steps to go after the fraudulent organizations that are cheating the public by awarding meaningless degrees and sending students the bill," said Senator Murray.