Welch law aims to lower college costs
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | September 17,2013
MONTPELIER — Vermont Rep. Peter Welch is looking to lower costs for those seeking a college degree by reducing federal regulations and providing more flexibility in how federal financial aid is applied.
Welch, a Democrat, joined with officials from colleges around the state Monday on the Community College of Vermont’s Montpelier campus to announce The Flexibility to Innovate for College Affordability Act.
The legislation is intended to allow students to more quickly obtain a degree and remove regulations “that are causing a problem and adding expense without providing any benefit,” Welch said.
The bill calls for a task force made up of officials in Washington, D.C., and “representatives from the higher education community” to review regulations placed on colleges and universities over the next six months. The group would then make recommendations for streamlining or eliminating overly burdensome regulation, Welch said.
“Within 120 days Congress would be required to vote on whether to implement the recommendations,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the bill also seeks to provide more flexibility on financial aid for students. Many students are looking to enter programs to receive accelerated degrees, Welch said. But the federal Pell Grant program currently allows aid for 12 credits per semester.
“If you want to accelerate and you want to get 15, let’s make that available. Let’s make the student aid available,” Welch said.
Additionally, Welch said financial aid should be available for dual enrollment students, including high school students enrolled in college courses.
“We could make financial aid available for that as long as it’s connected to getting a degree,” he said.
The legislation is part of an overall strategy to make a college education more affordable, Welch said. But colleges are facing challenges similar to American families.
“The costs are going up and the revenue isn’t and the federal government is not doing its share. It’s cutting back in supporting investments in the future, education foremost among them,” Welch said.
The legislation will help keep costs in check, according to Welch.
“We’ve been on this cycle where every time we increase a dollar for financial aid assistance for students, if that dollar is eaten up with a dollar tuition increase, then our families are treading water and not getting ahead,” he said.
Several officials from higher education institutions in Vermont who joined Welch Monday in the announcement hailed the bill and said they intended to work with Welch to see it enacted.
“What Congressman Welch is talking about in terms of affordability and how important higher education is and the opportunities it creates is incredible,” said CCV President Joyce Judy. “It is incredibly meaningful to us and of course the students.”
Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Timothy J. Donovan said Welch’s legislation could help to reduce the reporting requirements for colleges in how they spend federal funds. The requirements are costly and provide students with no direct benefit, he said.
“The challenge that we all face is enormous. And the challenges that our students and their parents face are equally enormous. In order for us to continue to make higher education as affordable as we can for Vermonters will require that higher education become more flexible, become more innovative,” he said. “We need to look at how we provide that education in ways that get students degrees faster and provide them with the flexibility they need.”