Roskam: Making college more affordable for everyone

Summer has ended and that means it’s back to school time for families across the country.

For those parents who recently loaded up the car and dropped their kids off at college, the excitement of another year of school is tempered by another year of looming tuition bills and ever-increasing education expenses.

As parents, we want our kids to have every opportunity for the future, and higher education is important for their success. But the rising cost of a college degree is making it harder for students to get a quality, affordable education without being saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt. In the past five years, the cost of a college degree has jumped more than 27 percent for public four-year institutions and 29 percent for public two-year institutions, placing a degree completely out of reach for some and presenting a significant challenge to more middle class families every year. At a time when our economy is still weak from the recession, lawmakers must step up to ensure college remains affordable for our nation’s kids. That is why in July, my colleagues and I passed a number of common-sense, bipartisan bills aimed at addressing the cost of college for American families.

The cost of college has become much more than the advertised price of tuition, room and board. Fees and course materials add up, and navigating the endless bureaucracy of student loans and financial aid programs can be daunting. To take some of the guesswork out of financial planning, the House passed the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, which creates a consumer-tested College Dashboard, giving students and parents the tools to fully understand the total cost of college before deciding where to continue their education. Another bill, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, provides interactive counseling through an online tool each year a student participates in a federal loan program. By increasing loan awareness and financial planning before and throughout the college experience, we can eliminate surprise expenses and ensure students work through available grant and scholarship options to shrink the size of their student loan.

The House also passed two bills that would streamline the tax code, making it easier for families to use tax credits to make college more affordable. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act consolidates four existing education provisions into a single, modernized and permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit that families can use to offset tuition expenses, fees and course materials. Middle- and low-income families would be eligible for a 100 percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of eligible higher education expenses and a 25 percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of such expenses, providing relief for those who need it the most. The House also voted to reform the Child Tax Credit, indexing it to inflation and eliminating the marriage penalty so families can more easily receive their full eligible amount. Simplifying education tax credits ensures families can get the most savings possible, and students can spend less time worrying about financing their education, instead focusing on developing the skills necessary to enter the workforce.

Obtaining a quality education is key to bettering the lives of our children and ensuring their long term success, and getting a college degree shouldn't mean a lifetime of student loan debt. These common-sense, bipartisan bills are a big step toward tackling the cost of higher education, and opening up more opportunities for the next generation.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District