The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

To compete in a global economy, a college degree is an absolute necessity, but the cost of tuition and the weight of debt can cripple a graduate at the very start of their American dream.

As President Barack Obama has said, “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.” I share in his commitment to easing the burden on college students and investing in a new generation of leadership. A college education should not only be for the privileged few.

In March, the President made real the promise of his candidacy for millions of young Americans by signing landmark health-care and student loan reforms into law. After nearly a year of debate in Congress, these reforms will provide millions of Americans with access to affordable health insurance and ease the burden of student debt. These reforms will create billions of dollars in savings that will be redirected to expand grant and loan opportunities — making student loans cheaper and easier to obtain. And I commend Penn for already taking steps to move to a direct-lending system.

As a chairman and member of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, I have led the battle to increase funding for Pell grants. I am pleased to note that the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 increases both the maximum size of Pell grants and the number of awards. By 2020, Pennsylvania is expected to receive an additional $324 million in Pell grants that will greatly assist more low-income students and families. And the Free Application for Federal Student Aid will now be easier to file each year, which will further increase loan access. Combined with debt forgiveness measures and reinvestments in community colleges, these reforms will place America on firm ground for a 21st-century world.

I am proud of these accomplishments, but our work is not yet complete. We can do more for American students. Indeed, we must do more.

For graduates facing financial hardship, debt repayments will be capped at 10 percent of discretionary income and forgiven after 20 years. This forgiveness goes down to 10 years if the graduate chooses a career in public service, like teaching.

I am now considering separate legislation that will expand on these initial successes.

To answer the call of a new generation, we must find more ways to encourage public service careers by easing the burden of debt. Repayments should be capped at an even lower rate per year, and forgiveness should start to be enacted after just five years of public service. If a student chooses to serve their country, there is no reason our country should not serve that student.

By expanding on the reforms already enacted, we will solidify America’s economic foundation and our colleges and universities will remain the envy of the world. But more importantly, our nation’s youth will not be forced to accept decades of financial insecurity because they pursued a college degree. I know that a worthwhile education has been my greatest asset in life.

We must also ask more of our academic institutions. Our universities have an equal responsibility in this endeavor by getting serious about cutting costs and increasing the transparency of how their tuition dollars are spent.

Throughout my nearly three decades in the Senate, I have worked hard to build a better way of life for Pennsylvanians. In February 2009, I stood with the President — and was the deciding vote — to pass the stimulus bill, which saved millions of jobs and prevented another Depression. I have stood with students, teachers and schools to make a good, affordable education a right. And last month, I stood with Democrats to guarantee quality health insurance reform for millions of Americans. Among the reforms, young adults can remain covered under their parents’ health insurance plans until the age of 26, providing a firm foundation when jobs are scarce.

In the coming months, I hope you will enable me to return to the Senate to keep fighting for a better future for all young people. Together, we can make good on the promise of America.

Arlen Specter is a Penn alumnus and a U.S. Senator (D-Pa.) running for re-election.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.