Communique from the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
As well-paying manufacturing jobs continue to leave the United States, the nation faces evermore urgent questions about how Americans will participate in the global economy in the generations to come.
Unquestionably, America increasingly must become a nation of innovators and knowledge workers to survive the international competitive challenge. It goes without saying that a college education is an essential prerequisite for most people to reach those career ladders.
While there’s little question about the truth of that proposition, sadly the nation has regressed tremendously in recent years through continued gutting of financial assistance for higher education—especially for the most economically disadvantaged. Last year’s $12 billion in cuts to the federal student loan programs were only the latest example of this distressing trend.
Thankfully among the initial steps of the new Congress, the College Student Relief Act overwhelmingly passed the House with a 356-71 vote. Sponsored by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and California Rep. George Miller, this legislation will begin to undo some of the damage wrought by the cuts by phasing in a reduction on the interest rates charged on these loans. Senator Durbin was on our campus on Martin Luther King Day to discuss the impact of recent cuts to federal student loan programs.
The proposed legislation is an important first step toward reversing the decline of financial aid. Students from families with modest incomes and anyone who cares about access to higher education should be grateful to Chicago's Congressional delegation, which uniformly co-sponsored this bill.
However, if the United States is truly serious about creating an equal opportunity society and remaining as competitive as possible in the global economy, much more remains to be done. We must do more in providing financial assistance to those talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are being shut out of higher education by the millions. A logical next step for Congress would be to restore Pell Grant funding at least to levels that were first established 40 years ago.