Heinrich Fights For Pathway To Affordable College

Degrees Not Debt Act would increase value of Pell Grants, improve accountability for higher education funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 12, 2019) - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) reintroduced the Degrees Not Debt Act to ensure higher education is accessible and affordable to all New Mexicans. The legislation is part of Senator Heinrich’s initiative to build a brighter economic future for students in New Mexico.

“There’s no doubt that a college education is still one of the surest ways to gain the skills needed to build a successful career, but we need to make sure New Mexicans have a fair shot at affording it without being crushed by debt,” said Heinrich. “Instead of giving tax breaks to the wealthy, we should be investing in a better economic future for our students. The Degrees Not Debt Act will make college affordable by increasing the value of the Pell Grant and holding states accountable in maintaining higher education funding.”

Senator Heinrich’s Degrees Not Debt Act would reverse some of the Trump Administration’s biggest tax giveaways to the wealthy and instead invest resources in making college affordable for families by bringing the Pell Grant into the 21st century.

The Degrees Not Debt Act would raise the value of Pell Grants from their current value of a little more than $6,000 up to $10,000 a year and ensure that almost all families who need help paying for college receive the full Pell Grant. In New Mexico, $10,000 per year would cover the full cost of tuition at all of our in-state colleges and universities. It would also help cover some of the living expenses like food and housing that make up the full cost of attending college.

Pell Grants were created more than 50 years ago to make a college education accessible to all low and middle-income families and are the primary form of financial aid for millions of students. During the 1970s, their value steadily increased from $452 to $1,800. In those days, that went a long way toward covering the cost of a college education. Since then, the cost of college has grown five times faster than the rate of inflation, and Pell Grants have failed to keep pace.

The economic downturn of the last decade has forced steep cuts to state education budgets across the country. As a result, colleges and universities are increasing tuition to make up the difference. Under the Degrees Not Debt Act, states would be required to reinvest in colleges and universities to receive Pell Grant funding for their students.

The Degrees Not Debt Act has received support from the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, Northern New Mexico College, the Associated Students of Northern New Mexico College, Santa Fe Community College, ENLACE New Mexico, and the New Mexico Nurses Association.

“UNM enthusiastically supports this legislation. It provides enhanced access, funding and sustainability for Pell Grant recipients who continue to be among the most vulnerable students pursuing higher education. Demographic changes in New Mexico and the nation make this legislation prudent and timely as more students struggle with college affordability,” said University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes.

“New Mexico State University is fully supportive of this legislation because it is important for New Mexico and the entire country. Increasing Pell Grants would help more students attend college, stay enrolled, and graduate with a college degree. This is especially important in New Mexico, where nearly one in five New Mexicans live below the poverty line. Students tell us that paying for school is a big problem. This proposed bill would increase the number of students eligible for Pell Grants and bring the value of the grants closer to the cost of college. This would greatly assist our students complete a college degree, while also helping them graduate with a smaller debt,” said New Mexico State University President John Floros.

“I am pleased to support Degrees Not Debt. As the cost of higher education increase, the federal financial aid programs have lagged behind student need. This bill will make college affordable for many more NM students, including students who will attend SFCC. And just as importantly, eliminating or significantly reducing student debt will allow graduates to enter their chosen professions as earners who are not saddled with student loan debt,” said Santa Fe Community College President Becky Rowley.

A copy of the bill is available here, and a fact sheet is available here.

Specifically, the Degrees Not Debt Act Would:

  • Increase the Federal Pell Grant to $10,000 per year and index future Pell Grants to the consumer price index.
  • Lower the expected family contribution to $0 for most families with an Adjusted Gross Income under 250 percent of federal poverty level. An estimated 60 percent of individuals and families attending college in America would receive the full $10,000 a year to attend school.
  • Hold states accountable to maintain or increase higher education funding. State governments must maintain or increase appropriations to their higher education institutions to get this Pell Grant funding for their students.
  • Increase college transparency regarding costs and student outcomes. Higher education institutions must prominently display key indicators that students and parents look at when making the decision about where to go to school.