Higher Education Access Act of 2007

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The Higher Education Access Act of 2007 (S.1642) was introduced in the U.S. Senate in June 2007 and remains in committee. The purpose of the bill is to address federal funding for college students. Among the bills' provisions are [more on the bill's provisions].

The Act is supported by numerous organizations, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance. They argue that [more on the arguments for the act].

Article summary (how summaries work)

The Higher Education Access Act of 2007 would:

  • Eliminate the Pell Grant "tuition sensitivity" provision that could negatively affect award amounts for students attending low-cost institutions.
  • Establish a new grant program for low-income, Pell eligible students in addition to the current Pell grant program.
  • Eliminate the three-year limitation on the period for which certain members of the armed forces may receive deferments on the interest on their student loans. It also extends this deferment period to cover 180 days after such a member of the armed forces is demobilized.
  • Change part of the definition of economic hardship from if one is working full-time and making less than 100 percent of the poverty level for a family of two to if one is working full-time and is making lass than 150% of the poverty level for his family size.
  • Create a new loan forgiveness plan through the Direct Loan program for public service employees.
  • Increase the family income level under which a student is automatically eligible for the maximum Pell grant from $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Eliminate the question on the FAFSA asking applicants whether they have been convicted of drug possession while receiving federal student assistance. It would not eliminate the penalty rendering such students ineligible, but would prohibit this question from being asked on the FAFSA.
  • Carry out a pilot program to establish a mechanism for the auction of all eligible PLUS loans. Eligible PLUS loans are loans made to parents of dependent students.
  • Provide $10,000,000 for fiscal year (fy) 2008 to pay for the estimated increased cost in the Pell program for award year 2007-2008 resulting from the amendments made by sections 603 and 604.[1]


Contents

Current status

The bill was passed by the Senate in July 2007, but no further action has been taken.


Senate consideration

An amendment to create new federal grant programs for college students failed.


Same for all scorecards:

Scored vote

Scorecard: American Conservative Union 2007 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: Nay

Description:

"The Senate killed an effort to establish a new program of government loans to full-time undergraduate and graduate students. ACU opposes the creation of new federal subsidies and opposed this amendment"

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.acuratings.org/)

The Senate passed the bill as amended on July 24, 2007, by a vote of 95-0.


Background

In 1998, the Souder-amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) was passed, pushing the Aid Elimination Penalty (H.R.6 of the 105th Congress) (20 U.S.C. 1091 (r)) into law. This amendment was passed to exclude students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid to attend institutions of higher learning. In the nine years which followed, the penalty disqualified nearly 200,000 hardworking students from receiving financial aid to go to college for what are often relatively minor criminal offenses.[2][3]

The Higher Education Access Act of 2007 would effectively remove the drug conviction penalty by not requiring applicants to the scholarship to answer questions about their drug conviction record.

Criticisms and commendations

Commendations

The group Students for Sensible Drug Policy supports the Higher Education Access Act of 2007, in particular because it works to counter the 1998 amendment that excluded students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid. They argue that the 1998 amendment is deeply flawed for the following reasons:

  • It is fiscally irresponsible as it keeps determined students from competing in the 21st-century workforce. The penalty dulls the United States' competitive edge at a time when we need to remove every impediment to American initiative and enterprise. The average full-time worker with a college degree earns 62 percent more and pays over twice as much in income taxes than the average worker with only a high school diploma. Furthermore, college graduates don’t burden U.S. taxpayers by relying as much on costly social programs. Preventing students from becoming successful, taxpaying citizens and skilled participants in the workforce blunts our nation’s competitive edge in the global economy. Simply put, America cannot afford the penalty.[4]
  • It pushes at-risk students into cycles of failure and recidivism, making our streets less safe. Receiving an education reduces the likelihood that individuals will abuse drugs or engage in other illegal activity. According to the Department of Justice, people with only high school diplomas are twelve times more likely to break the law and become incarcerated than college graduates. Incarcerating just one prisoner costs taxpayers $26,000 per year. Denying access to education to at-risk students only dooms them to lives without the financial opportunities bestowed upon college graduates and makes them more likely to repeat past mistakes.[5]
  • It does not solve our nation’s drug problems; it actually makes them worse. Since there are already minimum GPA requirements for receiving aid, the penalty only affects students who are doing well in their classes. Not surprisingly, denying hardworking students the opportunity for a college education brings us no closer to solving our nation's drug problems. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that high school graduates not enrolled in college are three times more likely to have used heroin and are almost twice as likely to have used cocaine in the past year than those in college. Drug arrests on college campuses have actually increased since the penalty was enacted in 1998. Even the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s own research arm, indicated that it could find no evidence that the penalty "actually helped to deter drug use."[6]
  • It violates the American principle of local control and decision-making. The penalty usurps judges’ and college administrators’ authority to administer punishments for violations of the law and campus policies. Judges already have the ability to hold those who break the law accountable and, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, they have the discretion to revoke student aid from people with drug convictions when they deem it an appropriate punishment. School administrators already have the power to expel problem students from campus. Officials in Washington who do not and cannot know what is best for individual students should not make blanket policies that overstep the discretion of parents, judges, and educators to deal appropriately with students who use illegal drugs. Repealing the penalty puts decision-making back in the hands of families and communities who know best how to handle individual students.[7]
  • It has a disproportionate impact on people of color. Because of racial profiling and the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, the penalty keeps people of color out of college at a disproportionate rate. While African Americans comprise 12.3% of the population, and proportionately account for 13% of drug users, they make up 37% of those arrested, 53% of those convicted, and 67% of those sent to jail for drug offenses. Blacks and Latinos account for 22% of all drug users, but 80% of people in prison for drug offenses. By putting an increased burden on communities of color, the penalty perpetuates racial inequalities that so many have fought for so long to abolish.[8]

The Drug Policy Alliance also would like to see the 1998 amendment removed from the Higher Education Act. They argue:

"The Souder-amendment is a discriminatory and counterproductive law. It punishes individuals twice for the same conduct and it cannot be enforced equally. There are no similar laws denying aid to violent or other criminal offenders. The Souder-amendment does nothing to help those who have drug abuse problems and it ignores the most widely abused drug on college campuses - alcohol. Instead the Souder-amendment erects a bar to education to those that would benefit the most from educational opportunities."[9]

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. "Higher Education Access Act of 2007," Career College Associates.
  2. "THOMAS page on H.R.6," THOMAS.
  3. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  4. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  5. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  6. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  7. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  8. "HEA Aid Elimination Penalty- Legislative Guide," Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
  9. "Higher Education Act," Drug Policy Alliance.

External resources

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