Consider just some of the broad lowlights, which is all that are available given the bill’s sheer, mountainous size, and the time constraints under which it’s being rammed through Congress.
First and foremost, the new HEA would increase the Pell Grant maximum from $5,800 to $9,000, a 55 percent leap. If the same number of Pell recipients as we had in 2008 — almost 5.6 million — were to receive maximum benefits under the new bill, it would cost more than $50 billion. The chances of that happening aren’t huge — most Pell recipients don’t qualify for maximum awards, and Congress rarely appropriates full authorized amounts — but Pell outlays will almost certainly rise, and their potential is fiscally frightening.
Still in the direct‐costs‐to‐taxpayers column, the bill would simplify the process for students to get federal aid, easing the way to government money for students who are so unmotivated they won’t even go through the current process to get college dough. There’s also a new loan fund for colleges damaged by natural disasters, and added cash for graduate programs serving large minority populations.
Next, we have new rules and regulations. Colleges will have to report a lot more information about what supposedly drives their costs and prices. The U.S. Department of Education will get new authority to regulate private loans, which use no taxpayer money and are, as a result, the only truly fair student aid because both lender and borrower voluntarily agree to terms. There’s even a requirement that colleges come up with plans to enable students to legally download music and movies.
And then there’s the real kicker: This bill would do nothing to rein in rampant tuition inflation, by far the biggest problem in higher education. Indeed, by giving students yet more taxpayer‐furnished aid, it will just keep exacerbating the problem, heaping more cheap money on kids so that they can demand bigger hot tubs, more famous professors, and fancier dining‐hall food.
Just look at the numbers: It’s no coincidence that while the inflation‐adjusted price of college has gone up roughly 70 percent over the last two decades, aid per‐student rose almost 140 percent. The more money students get from others, the more they’re willing to pay and the more universities are happy to charge.
Unfortunately, this all seems inconsequential in Washington. The conference committee passed its HEA monstrosity 40–4. The bill is expected to breeze through the House and Senate — if it can physically be squeezed through the doors — on its way to a presidential signature. It’s just another sign that numbers like 1,158 and $452 billion mean nothing in D.C. Vote counts are the only numbers that really matter.