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Robert C.
Democrat PA

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  • Higher Education Extension Act of 2015

    by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

    Posted on 2015-12-16

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    CASEY. Mr. President, I thank the chairman for his work in helping us get to this point today. It is an important moment at the end of an important year, and we are grateful for his leadership. Even when we have had a basic disagreement to get this compromise worked out, it would not have happened, it could not have happened without his leadership and working with Democrats on our side of the aisle, Senator Murray, as the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, working with Chairman Alexander. I thank Senator Baldwin for her work in leading this effort on our side and leading our team.

    This is a compromise, which, as Senator Alexander noted, some people don't think we do enough of. I think it is an important example of why we must work together.

    When we consider the compromise that I worked on and the other Senators who are here and others who are not here, along with our staffs--I mentioned Jared and Lauren on my staff, who did a lot of work on this, and we are grateful for that.

    But we can report today some good news for more than 150,000 current freshmen Perkins loan recipients whose eligibility was cut off when the program expired on the 30th of September of this year. This bipartisan agreement provides for a 2-year extension of the Perkins Loan Program and provides some certainty for students and their families as we debate a longer term solution. We have more to do. Simply put, what students tell us they need is that basic certainty.

    One of the reasons we are happy we have reached a compromise at this stage is that I think most of us believe what have I often said--that early education applies to higher education. If young people learn more when they are in their college years, they are going to earn more later. One of the ways to learn more when you are at that age is to have the resources and help of a loan program such as Perkins.

    Perkins loans are critically important in a State such as Pennsylvania. Forty thousand students in Pennsylvania receive these loans at more than 100 schools. As many people know, these loans are fixed rate and they are low interest. Unlike traditional subsidized loans, they don't accrue interest when the student is in school. They have significant robust forgiveness opportunities for borrowers who, for example, become high school teachers or first responders or librarians or nurses or Peace Corps volunteers, among so many other professions. The loans can be consolidated to qualify for income-based repayment and other loan-forgiveness options.

    This agreement ensures that those with the least financial resources will be able to continue to receive this important source of financial aid. Because of this compromise, freshmen and students across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will not have to choose between dropping out and taking out unaffordable, high-interest private loans in order to secure their degree.

    I would like to give two examples before I conclude.

    Abigail Anderson, a freshman at Immaculata University, currently receives a Perkins loan of $2,000. She said she had it all figured out, but with this program expiring on September 30, she said: It changes everything. She said she didn't know how she was going to pay for school next year because her parents couldn't afford to pay any more. About the Perkins Loans, Abigail Anderson said, ``Every little amount counts. It makes a difference.'' Here is another example. Amber Gunn, a freshman at Temple University, is from Hazelton, PA, near my hometown of Scranton. Amber did not have enough money to pay her tuition bill even for this year. Her mother wasn't able to cosign her loans, but she was able to get a Perkins loan in the amount of $5,000 from the help of Temple University's financial aid office. Amber Gunn said as follows: Without the Perkins Loan I probably wouldn't have been able to enroll for my first semester of school. I'm not sure what I'll do next year without the loan, I'm kind of in a predicament.

    For some, that might be an understatement.

    So now, with this bipartisan agreement, neither Abigail nor Amber and so many others will have to worry. They can focus their attention on the end of the semester, their exams--and whatever else they are having to focus on--instead of wondering whether they will be able to afford to return to campus for their sophomore years.

    Even with this compromise, we have lots of work to do--more work to do to come together on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. But this is a good moment for the Senate, and it is especially a good moment for students and families across the country, and in my case for the some 40,000 in the State of Pennsylvania.

    I thank the chairman for his leadership and again thank Senator Baldwin.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.

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