Wyden, Merkley Aim to Lower the Cost of College

WASHINGTON – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today introduced legislation to make college more affordable for students and families in Oregon and across the country. 

The PARTNERSHIPS Act would encourage states to hold down college tuition costs by creating a program that provides federal matching funds for states that agree to end tuition growth at their public colleges and universities, which enroll nearly three-quarters of all students. The bill sets federal matching rates based on how much funding a state provides for public higher education operating support on a per student basis, compared and indexed to the maximum Pell Grant award. Under the bill, states that spend more per student receive a higher federal match rate, up to about $1700 per student.

A major factor in increasing tuition costs is continued funding cuts from states for public higher education. States currently spend about 20 percent less per student on higher education nationally than they did in 2008.

“College students in Oregon and across the country feel like they’re getting hit by a wrecking ball when it comes to the cost of tuition,” Wyden said. “It’s time to focus on solutions that will make sustained headway to reduce the crushing debt of increasing tuition expenses.

“As the first in my family to go to college, I know that high tuition costs can be an insurmountable barrier for students of modest means,” Merkley said. “Higher education is an essential pathway to the middle class, and a strong education system is indispensable for our nation to build a strong and innovative economy for the 21st Century. It’s time for our federal and state governments to partner to bring down tuition costs and reinvest in higher education here in America.”

Wyden and Merkley met with college students around Oregon last week to discuss the rising costs of tuition and ways to make college more affordable for families. They heard accounts from students from the University of Oregon, Southern Oregon University and Lane Community College about the impacts of student debt on their lives after college. 

The Promoting Access and Retention Through New Efforts to Require Shared Higher Investments in Postsecondary Success (PARTNERSHIPS) Act would expand and make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is available to families to help pay for college. Specifically, it would increase the tax refund for lower-income families who don’t owe any taxes. The bill would also make Pell grants, including those used for room and board, tax-free.

Read the bill text here and a summary here