Staff editorial: Finally, a bill that pays off for students

Congress approved a bill Thursday to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, with many beneficial changes.

The bill aims to combat the tuition increases students have come to expect each semester, as well as streamline the financial aid process. For students at UH, this couldn’t be better news.

The University’s tuition will increase 5.9 percent in the fall and financial aid problems have plagued students for semesters. But, under the bill, colleges and universities must report information about their costs and prices in "user-friendly lists" to the Department of Education, The New York Times reported. Those showing the greatest increases in tuition must explain why prices rose and how they will work to cut costs.

Students have the upper hand in this move toward more transparency, as holding colleges accountable for their rates will make them more hesitant to implement unnecessary or excessive increases.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the bill, though, is what it will do for the financial aid process. Many students will always struggle to pay tuition, no matter how low it is, and having an easy-to-use process will make acquiring financial aid easier for those who need it.

The bill requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be cut to two pages from seven. This new FAFSA-EZ form will allow students to complete their applications more quickly and, as a result, have their information expedited to universities. After the extensive delays students faced at the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid as a result of missing or late information, this change can only help.

Colleges and universities will also be required to disclose relationships with financial lenders and will not be able to accept any gifts or revenue-sharing agreements. Agreements with lenders often force students into loan contracts with specific lenders that may not offer the lowest interest rates. The bill will give students a greater opportunity to seek lenders on their own and allow them to search for an agreement they find most beneficial.

But what may most noticeably affect students’ pocketbooks is what the bill will do for textbook sales. It requires textbook publishers to sell unbundled versions of every textbook and provide full pricing information for each.

These bundles unfairly require students to purchase a package of books when many can be found at a lower cost; however, if one book cannot be found, students cannot buy just the one, they must purchase all. The only bundle we’re happy with is the bill that does away with this ridiculous practice. Packaged with these textbook provisions are many other positive changes (the bill is 1,100 pages), and we’re glad to see Congress so readily approve them. Here’s hoping President Bush does the same.

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