News Releases

Murray Helps Pass Bill that Will Make College More Affordable for Washington State Students

Sep 07 2007

Landmark legislation raises Pell Grants by 25%, cuts interest rates on student loans in half, and provides additional $333 million for need-based grants for Washington state students

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) helped Working to Make College More Affordablepass critical higher education legislation that will provide more federal support for Washington state students in the form of increased Pell Grants, a significant reduction in student loan interest rates, a cap on monthly loan payments, and various specialized grant programs. The legislation, The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, was passed in the Senate by a vote of 79-12.

“Without Pell Grants and student loans I never would have been able to attend college,” said Senator Patty Murray. “So I know what this bill will mean for the millions of students who rely on financial aid to realize their dreams. With college becoming more expensive and more students leaving school saddled with debt, the deck is already stacked against them. By increasing Pell grants, cutting interest rates, and putting students first, this bill will begin to turn the tide.”

Specifically, this bill:

  • Raises the maximum Pell Grant by 25 percent over four years to $5,400 per student
  • Cuts the interest rate on federal loans in half to 3.4 percent for students with subsidized loans.
  • Guarantees that borrowers will not have to pay more than 15 percent of their monthly income in student loan payments.
  • Awards grants to students who commit to teaching in high-need subjects at high-need schools.
  • Increases funding for Upward Bound Program that assists low-income students afford college, and
  • Invests in minority-serving institutions.

 Murray Sponsored Initiatives

The bill also includes two provisions that Senator Murray worked hard to include.

Military Loan Deferment and Relief – Thanks to Senator Murray's work this bill lifts this three-year limit on military loan deferment and makes more service members eligible for student loan deferment and relief. 

"With deployments as long as 15 months in Iraq, and young dependent families left at home, our service members are already facing real financial challenges," said Senator Murray. "Paying back student loans should not be something weighing on their mind as they serve us overseas or as they transition back into civilian life."

Homeless and Foster Care Students Aid - Senator Murray helped to simplify the student aid application process in an effort to make more homeless and foster care students eligible for aid. 

"I am also pleased that this bill improves college access for homeless and foster care students," Murray said. "These vulnerable students face tremendous barriers in their education – especially those who don't have a parent or guardian who's able to guide them through the process."

Senator Murray offered the following remarks today supporting the bill: 

Mr. President, the bill that we are debating today comes at a critical time for our country. 

As the connected world has brought about new competition from nations across the globe, the need for more Americans to be armed with a college education has become essential to the future of our economy. 

And as a new generation enters a work world that demands highly skilled, highly trained workers, a college degree is necessary to open the door to a successful career.

But for too long the deck has been stacked against students seeking to build their careers and grow our economy.  

College has become more expensive, interest rates have grown, and those students who are able to attend college often graduate saddled with debt and unable to buy a car or a house.  

Today we have the opportunity to turn the tide in favor of students and ensure a stronger future for our country. 

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act:

  • puts students first,
  • makes college more affordable,
  • cuts interest rates,
  • helps recent graduates, and
  • encourages public service. 

 It also helps to ensure that students today have the same opportunities that I had growing up.  

When I was growing up, my family didn't have a lot.  The only way I was able to attend college was through Pell Grants and student loans.  In fact, because of Pell Grants and student loans, all seven kids in my family were able to get a college education.  

Today those seven kids are a school teacher, a lawyer, a firefighter, a homemaker, a computer programmer, a sports writer, and a U.S. Senator. In my book that was a great investment.

This bill helps a new generation attend college and realize their dreams in a variety of ways. 

Raising Pell Grants

First, this bill raises the maximum Pell Grant by 25 percent over four years to $5,400 per student.  That will make a real difference for students in my home state of Washington.  

In Washington state, 20 years ago, the maximum Pell Grant covered 53% of the costs at a public, four-year college.  Today it only covers 33% of those costs. By raising the maximum Pell Grant, this bill will help students in Washington state and across the country attend college.

For Washington state, this bill will make another $30 million available in need-based grants next year alone.  Over five years, the bill will provide an additional $333 million for low-income students.  

Reasonable Monthly Loan Payments

This bill will also ensure that college graduates are not trapped by high loan payments after college.  This bill cuts the interest rate on federal loans in half to 3.4 percent for students with subsidized loans.

It also guarantees that borrowers will not have to pay more than 15 percent of their monthly income in student loan payments.  This will bring immediate relief to students who are burdened with excessive loans.  

Another problem with high student loan debt is that it limits the career choices of college graduates.  

Many can't afford to take a job in public service and pay back their loans at the same time.  

This bill encourages public service by providing loan forgiveness for graduates who pursue careers in these areas.  

TEACH Grants

As a former teacher, I am also extremely pleased that the TEACH grant program has been included in this bill. 

This program will provide $4,000 grants to students who commit to teaching in high-need subjects at high-need schools. 

It is past time that we reward students who are willing to embrace the challenge of working with our country’s students who are the most in-need. 

Upward Bound

I’m also pleased that we were able to increase funding for the Upward Bound program which helps more low-income students prepare for and attend college.  This program is so important for assisting students who may be the first ones in their family to go to college.

Strengthening Minority Institutions

And I'm pleased that minority-serving institutions will see funding in the form of a $500 million investment contained in this bill.  

And finally Mr. President, I'm especially proud that this bill contains two provisions I worked hard to include that help groups that face other unique problems in the college aid process.

Military Service Members – Lifting Three Year Deferment Limit

For our brave men and women in uniform, I worked to include a provision that will allow them to defer their student loan payments during their deployments and as they transition out of service.  

Currently, the law limits how long service members can defer their payments to just three years.

As we all know, those who are serving our country have enough to worry about these days. 

With deployments as long as 15 months in Iraq, and young dependent families left at home, our service members are already facing real financial challenges. 

Paying back student loans should not be something weighing on their mind as they serve us overseas or as they transition back into civilian life. 

So this bill lifts this three-year limit and makes more service members eligible for student loan deferment and relief. 

Opens Doors for Homeless and Foster Students

I am also pleased that this bill improves college access for homeless and foster care students. 

These vulnerable students face tremendous barriers in their education – especially those who don't have a parent or guardian who's able to guide them through the process.  

In this bill, I joined with my colleagues to simplify the student aid application process and made homeless and foster students eligible for higher levels of assistance.

Thank Senator Kennedy

I really want to thank Senator Kennedy for his leadership in moving this bill forward and making sure it does right by our students.  He is a tireless champion for our young people, and his work is allowing so many more of them to achieve the American Dream. 

Conclusion

Mr. President. To me, this is simple.  If we want our economy to grow, our people to succeed, and our country to be strong, we have to help more students get a college education. This bill will do just that, and I urge my colleagues to support it.