College affordability holds key to American success

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Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

When I spoke at a UT internship fair last fall, I met so many hardworking and passionate students who deserve support that allows them to thrive. While spring break can provide a rest from studying and midterms, the reprieve most students need is a break from school loans. We must make college affordable.

 

Lowering Costs

Last November, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act celebrated its 50th anniversary. President Johnson described this first piece of federal legislation to reduce the cost of education as ensuring the “path of knowledge is open to all that have the determination to walk it.” While it improved college affordability at the time, half a century later far too many of our students face financial barriers to furthering their education — and many of those who do make it to college leave with a mountain of debt. Student debt nationwide now totals more than one trillion dollars, surpassing even credit card debt.

 

Tax Credit for Higher Education

To lower the debt burden, I helped successfully pass the American Opportunity Tax Credit to save students and families up to $10,000 on tuition, textbooks, and other fees. Aptly known as the “More Education” tax credit, since 2009, the credit has helped millions of students and working families pay for college. This year, I introduced legislation to allow Pell Grant recipients to receive the full tax benefit of this credit, increase the credit’s lifetime maximum limit, and provide more help to those who most need it.

 

Simplifying Student Aid

Many students — and their parents — are too discouraged by the price tag of college to even apply. And for many that do apply, they find the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) too complicated to complete.  This means they lose access to the available aid for which they qualify and can mean the difference between going to your college of choice or even going to college at all. Students who do not complete the FAFSA leave millions in federal assistance unclaimed. To lower financial barriers so students can achieve their full God-given potential, I am introducing the Equitable Student Aid Access Act.  

 

FAFSA Improvements

My new bill, like my prior successful FAFSA legislation, is designed to take the next step in removing unnecessary obstacles to ease access to student financial aid. All students who qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or food assistance through SNAP, for example, would be able to complete a shorter form FAFSA to access the full Pell Grant amount. Ensuring that our most vulnerable students get the grant money they deserve without answering burdensome asset-based questions removes a significant barrier to college access. The bill also mandates that the FAFSA be available earlier, in October instead of January, and broadens access to the full Pell Grant amount for some of our most struggling families. 

 

More Work Remains

I have been working with the IRS and the Department of Education to restore a critical tool on the FAFSA website that allows tax information to be automatically populated into the form. And I have spoken out against President Trump’s proposed budget cuts, including slashing funding for the Department of Education by 13.5 percent. We need to invest in education and in our students, not cut funding. As a lifelong Longhorn, who grew up a few blocks from campus, got my education and met my wife on the 40 Acres and was originally elected to represent all University neighborhoods, I plan to continue serving you and the prospective students who hope to become Longhorns.

Truly making America great depends on the next generation of well-educated, empowered citizens — helping students get a break is something we should all be able to support.

Let me hear from you — you can email me at Lloyd.Doggett@mail.house.gov. If you are interested in an internship in either my Austin or DC office, please indicate your interest and send your resume, writing sample, and three references to Lloyd.Doggett@mail.house.gov.

Congressman Doggett is a BBA ‘67 and JD ‘70 graduate from UT and was elected to be the student body president in 1967. He represents Texas’ 35th Congressional District.