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From Capitol To Campus

In January, a new president and a new Congress began work, and both gave early signals that higher education is a priority.

To start, President Obama announced Arne Duncan as his pick for Education Secretary. While Duncan’s background is in urban education reform, he highlighted several critical higher education issues at his nomination hearing.

These include taking a new look at the federal financial student aid form, which Duncan feels is too intimidating for students, especially first-generation college students.

He also noted that salaries for public service professions, including teachers at all levels, are too low for graduates to repay the enormous debt they incur from college expenses, so they are dissuaded from entering those professions.

In Congress, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan—the economic stimulus package released by House Democrats in mid-January—provides direct and indirect assistance to ever-tightening state higher education budgets.

The House plan would increase the maximum Pell Grant and close a shortfall in the Pell Grant program. It would also increase unsubsidized student loan limits and provide a tax credit of up to $2500 per year for postsecondary education.

In addition, funding for school modernization and repair, initially expected to be for K-12 only, was expanded to include public colleges and universities. The bill also relieves pressures on state higher education budgets by providing funds for other critical needs in the states.

Much work remains to be done on in the new Congress, so keep up-to-date at the Legislative Action Center.

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