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Rockefeller brings good news about college aid

September 17, 2007|By ASHLEY HARTMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - A dozen students at Shepherd University got a chance Sunday to talk to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., about the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007.

The legislation was passed in Congress a week ago and could affect students' college costs in the future.

"There is about to be a big change in student aid," Rockefeller said. "It's sort of the biggest improvement since the G.I. bill," he said, referring to the bill that provides educational funding for those serving in the military.

The goal of the act is to make a college education more affordable, since college costs have tripled in the past 20 years.

"It makes college more affordable for people on the lower end of the spectrum," Shepherd University President Suzanne Shipley said. "It's groundbreaking legislation."

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"It's going to increase student aid and loans by $20 billion over five years," Rockefeller said. "At Shepherd University, 70 percent of all students are getting some kind of loans."

The act will also increase maximum Pell Grants - currently $4,050 per qualifying student - to $5,100 in 2008 and $5,400 by 2011.

In West Virginia, 37,297 students will receive $103.3 million in Pell Grants this year.

"The thing I fought for ... if a student works in public service, the military, social work, helping other people, it doesn't pay as much as something else," Rockefeller said. "If you do that for 10 years, all your student loans will be forgiven."

The act will cut interest rates in half - to 3.4 percent - on subsidized student loans over the next five years, increase federal loan limits, give the option of a cap on federal student loan payments and provide upfront tuition assistance to qualified undergraduate students who commit to teaching in public schools in high-poverty communities or in high-need subject areas.

"I noticed that the students' eyes really lit up when (Rockefeller) mentioned a cut in interest rates," Shipley said.

Ahmed Rizik, a second-semester junior at Shepherd, liked the public service portion of the act.

"I like the part where you work for the public and get loan forgiveness," Rizik said. "A lot of people work in the private sector, but those who work for the public need as much help as they can get."

The option of a cap on federal loan payments applies to up to 15 percent of a borrower's discretionary income.

Rockefeller said if a West Virginia teacher is making $26,000 to $27,000 a year and owes $16,041 in loan payments, those payments could be reduced monthly from $185 to $117.

"I thought it was very informative that the government is thinking about this issue," said Kari Edge, a senior music major at Shepherd.

"I personally hope they keep the teacher grant," said Edge, referring to tuition assistance that the act would provide to undergraduates teaching in high-poverty schools and in high-need subjects.

"I really liked the increase in Pell Grants," said senior Nylia Zamora, a computer science major. "Just knowing that there is more money available is great."

"We want to shift the whole emphasis of college loans from banks making money to students saving money," Rockefeller said. "If a person on a board of a university or college is a member of a bank providing these things, the bill will look at that. There is a substantial amount of corruption going on at your expense."

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