Welcome back, Gauchos! I hope all of you had a great summer, and I extend a special welcome to all students who are new to UCSB.

As many of you know, UCSB holds a special place in my heart. My husband, Walter, was a professor here for many years, my son graduated from the university, and I am a proud alumna of the Gervitz Graduate School of Education.

I want to applaud all of you and your families for having the commitment and drive necessary to attend one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning. I know that beyond the excellent academic credentials you needed to gain acceptance to UCSB, many of you and your families also had to overcome significant financial hurdles to attend the university.

Unfortunately, the cost of a college education is more expensive than ever. In the last five years alone, college costs have grown nearly 40 percent. Sadly, every year some 200,000 students in America do not attend college because they can’t afford the high cost. Those who do attend are graduating from college with more debt than ever before. 

At UCSB, the average student borrower has over $15,000 in student loans when he or she graduates. These burdensome costs for students and families are making a key component of the American Dream ­ access to a better life through education ­ more and more difficult.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Democrats in Congress have long recognized that access to an affordable, quality education is one of the cornerstones of our country and critical to the future competitiveness of the United States in the larger global economy. And over the course of the last couple of years, the Democratic Congress has taken major steps toward making college more affordable and accessible for all Americans.
Last fall, Congress enacted into law a $20 billion increase in college financial aid over the next five years, the largest increase in student aid since the GI Bill of 1944. To reduce the cost of loans for millions of student borrowers, this legislation cut interest rates in half on need-based student loans, from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over the next four years. Once fully phased in, this will save the typical UCSB student borrower ­ with over $15,000 in need-based student loan debt ­ $5,000 over the life of the loan.
This summer we took another major step by passing the Higher Education Opportunity Act. This bipartisan legislation was designed to address the soaring cost of college tuition and remove other obstacles that make it difficult for qualified students to pursue a college education.
I am especially pleased to report that this new law increases Pell Grants to $8,000 over the next few years and allows students to receive them year-round. It also provides up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness for students who pursue high need public service careers such as nurses, teachers and law enforcement officers. And it increases college aid and support for veterans and military families by creating a new scholarship program for active duty military personnel and family members. This bill also takes important steps to restore integrity and accountability to our student loan programs by requiring that students be provided with fair and complete information about their borrowing options. It also mandates leaders and colleges follow stricter guidelines of conduct.
In addition, it makes textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester. It also requires more transparency from colleges and lenders regarding tuition and loan costs and provides students and families with consumer friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases. Finally, the law helps ease the cumbersome process of applying for financial aid by streamlining the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process into an easy-to-use two-page form.

Other provisions improve safety on college campuses, help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster, ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities, and strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities. The legislation also helps low-income and minority students by strengthening important outreach and college prep programs like G.E.A.R. U.P. and T.R.I.O.

I’m proud that these new laws will help make college more affordable and accessible for thousands of students here at UCSB and millions of students across the country.