Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Cory A. Booker
Posted on 2015-01-07
BOOKER. I wish to thank Senators Bennet and Alexander for their
work on this legislation. It is going to help our Nation's students
make better, smarter, and more-informed decisions about higher
Historically, the United States has been the leader globally in expanding college opportunity. We understand that an educated workforce is essential to our Nation's economic competitiveness. Without highly skilled workers, America will not be able to compete in the global economy.
The average price of a college degree in the United States is climbing--about $13,856. Please put that in perspective with our competitor nations, nations that are keeping the cost of college low, knowing that their long-term competitiveness as a country depends on the education of their children, nations such as the United Kingdom, where a college education costs less than half of ours, and Germany, where kids pay a mere $933.
The average American student now is graduating from college with around $29,000 in loans. In New Jersey, that is up from an average of $27,000 in 2011 and $23,000 and change in 2010. This is unacceptable. Mounting debt is undermining not only the success of our individual young people in our country, but it is undermining the long-term competitiveness our Nation has in a global knowledge-based economy. That is one reason why it is important that we work to make the process of obtaining financial aid simpler and more straightforward.
We saw the ridiculousness which Senator Bennet held up in the length of the form and the explanation document. Well, this has to change. This is something I recognized when I was mayor of the city of Newark. We had classes. Literally we called it, I think, Financial Aid University, where we brought experts in just to try to help students navigate all of that. We spent so many resources knowing that for our kids from Newark to be competitive, we had to help them navigate this labyrinth of challenging questions and documents that it takes perhaps a college degree or even more to figure out.
When I first came to the Senate about 13 months ago, one of the first pieces of legislation I offered, having had that experience, was a way of simplifying these forms. There is an urgency here because the College Board estimates that 2.3 million students do not fill out the FAFSA form, the free application for financial aid. Because the form is a gateway to financial aid, having 2.3 million being deterred from actually filling it out is a harm to our Nation, not just to those individual students. Many students who qualify for Federal aid skip the form because they find it--as we obviously saw--too complex.
Because eligibility is currently based on income information for the year immediately preceding enrollment, financial aid deadlines mean that tax data is not yet available. As a result, students must determine how to fill out financial aid questions on the FAFSA form and take additional steps then to submit later the tax documents.
We know more can be done to make this process simpler and accessible, which is why I am pleased. I was really rejoicing when Senator Alexander and Senator Bennet showed me there was a way we could work-- even further than the legislation I introduced in the last Congress--to reduce it to two questions--saving time, saving energy, saving stress but even more importantly empowering students to get their education and contribute to our economy so that we can compete with those other countries that seem to be doing a much better job than we are in keeping the cost of college low.
This bill streamlines the financial aid system, simplifies the FAFSA form, discourages overborrowing--which is a problem--and, most importantly, gives students and families better information earlier in the process to enable them to make better decisions for them. This bill is a good step.
This bill is a great step. I am looking forward to working with the higher education community as well as students and families in New Jersey on how we can be successful in simplifying this process, increasing access to college and boosting not only enrollment but the economic output of our citizenry.
Again, I thank Senator Alexander and Senator Bennet for their work and leadership. I am pleased to be with them in this effort, and I look forward to continuing the conversation this year.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.