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Dem Congressman: No Need for Law to Lock College Tuition Rates

Yazidi men rebuild religious temples in the town of Bashiqa, Iraq on June 21, 2017. (Andrea DiCenzo/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said Congress should not pass a law prohibiting colleges and universities from raising tuition on students after they enroll as a way to keep the cost of higher education under control.

Some colleges such as Hofstra University offer a tuition-lock program for certain qualified applicants, which charges them the same fixed rate for the duration of their studies.

Efforts to protect students from tuition rate increases are underway in California. The Student Protection Act has been introduced in the state assembly, which would freeze tuition rates until 2020 at state universities and community colleges if signed into law.

Scott’s comments were made during the launch of “Aim Higher,” a House Democratic initiative to encourage new “legislative solutions” to make higher education more affordable and accessible.

“Let’s be clear, a college education is not just limited to a four-year degree. Credentials and associate’s degrees also help propel individuals into stable careers, but far too many students never get a chance to complete or even enter an institution of higher education. Students from low-income families, for example, are still entering college at lower rates than their higher income peers did in the mid-1970s,” Scott said on a conference call last week.

“Students of color, first generation students, adult learners, veterans and single parents are disproportionately enrolling in public open access institutions such as community colleges, and these institutions are underfunded and overcrowded. We’re seeing more students turn to higher-cost alternatives including for-profit colleges with little guarantee of quality. This can lead to exurbanite debt in exchange for a meaningless degree or credential,” he added.

PJM asked Scott, ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, if Congress should pass a bill that would require all institutions of higher education to offer a tuition-lock program so students are protected from tuition rate increases for the duration of their studies.

“This is not as much of a problem as it was a few years ago because costs would routinely go up 15-20 percent, so you got in at one price and by the time your junior year comes along, you just can’t afford it. And that’s obviously not a decent or fair situation,” Scott replied.

“I’m not sure we want to pass a law prohibiting them from adjusting tuition at all during the four years, but they ought to have to disclose what their policy is so that somebody going in will know they might not be able to afford to graduate because the college doesn’t have certain policies. So, I wouldn’t want to pass a law, but I would want some disclosure so that it’s clear what your tuition may be in your senior year – so when you decide to go or not go, you have that information,” he added.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said Democrats are dedicated to protecting federal Pell grants for students.

“We have to find a way to have federal Pell grants keep up with college costs so the students are not forced to rely on loans to such a degree,” she said on the call.

Davis, a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, spoke out against the education-related budget cuts in the Trump administration’s FY2018 budget proposal.

“It’s Congress’ responsibility to re-examine our federal policies, to go back and look at what we’ve done in the past and what we can do better to ensure that the Higher Education Act is living up to this charge, and that’s why we want to empower all students to aim higher and fulfill their lifelong potential,” she said. “It means instead of making college less affordable by slashing billions from federal financial aid programs like the president’s partial budget request or proposals like we’ve seen, unfortunately, from many of our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle.”

Scott said education policy reforms are worthy of taxpayer dollars.

“Make no mistake, these reforms will cost money – money that some people say we can’t afford, but I’ve consistently argued that we can afford robust investment in our students and colleges,” he said. “It’s just a matter of choices.”