Reauthorize and reinvigorate Higher Education Act on its 50th anniversary

(10-30-2015)

Opinion by Dr. Beverlee J. McClure, President, Adams State University

November 8, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act, a tangible demonstration of the United States' dedication to making higher education available to anyone willing to work hard in order to be successful.

Today, issues of access to and affordability of higher education are just as crucial as they were when President Lyndon Johnson signed the HEA into law in 1965. Over the last 25 years, states have cut funding for higher education by 30 percent, leading to continuous tuition increases. One result is that more students must borrow increasingly more money to support their educations. Outstanding educational debt now exceeds $1.3 trillion and is the single greatest component of consumer credit. At a time when post-secondary education is even more important for career success, many students have been priced out of that goal.

The Higher Education Act is past due for another reauthorization, one that must reinvigorate the Pell Grant, which helps the neediest students improve their lives through higher education. Not only has the maximum Pell Grant award actually decreased, it now covers less than one-third of college costs, the lowest proportion ever.

Access and affordability are at the heart of Adams State University's mission to serve diverse populations. For a time, the Pell Grant was available during summer sessions, but was discontinued, forcing many students to curtail their education. Summer session helps students fulfill the 30 credits of course work needed each year to graduate within four years. This is particularly helpful to students who work or have family responsibilities.

I urge you to contact your legislators to convey the importance of the Pell Grant and other student aid programs. The next HEA reauthorization must credibly address state funding practices; otherwise families and taxpayers will be faced with a landscape of unaffordable institutions that most can only attend by massive borrowing.

Adams State University's core purpose is to " . . . educate, serve, and inspire our diverse populations in the pursuit of their lifelong dreams and ambitions." Reinvigorating the Pell Grant is a step in the right direction to ensure that lifelong dreams and ambitions do not mean lifelong debt.