Himes and Murphy pitch college affordability at Fairchild Wheeler

By:  Linda Lambeck
CT News

BRIDGEPORT _ U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and U.S. Rep Jim Himes, D-4, took their pitch for a bill to make college more affordable to an audience that stands to benefit from it the most: high school juniors at the Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet campus.

Students like Isabel Negron, 17, who is part of the Information Technology School and who has her heart sent on Columbia University, said she has no idea how she will come up with the $150,000 plus in tuition costs a four year degree from there will cost.

“I didn’t know they were trying to make colleges more affordable,” Negron added. “I didn’t catch how long they’ve’ been doing this for.”

The bill was introduced this month.

Murphy said the hope is that congress will pay more attention to college costs so students can borrow less.

“We need an army of students on our side,” Murphy said, who presented the plan to an assembly of the entire junior class of the complex made up of three separate science high school.

Murphy said the senate will debate the Higher Education act this fall. He wants elements of the bill included.

Himes, meanwhile, said his hope is elements in the bill will be incorporated into reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the House side.

“That’s an opportunity to push some of these ideas…This needn’t be a partisan fight. The idea that every child should be able to live up to their potential,” Himes said.

Murphy said it is not about spending more money but existing money better.

The bill requires colleges to keep tuition under control, and award degrees that lead to jobs for graduates, in order to continue receiving federal funding. It also incentivizes schools to create new models of education that reduce the time to degree so that students can graduate faster with less debt.

The introduction of the Murphy-Himes bill comes on the heels of a new report that suggests Connecticut’s community college students who transfer to the University of Connecticut (UConn) lose more than 20 percent of the credits that they try to transfer over to UConn, subsequently delaying their graduation and increasing their costs by $6,350.

The College Affordability and Innovation Act would:

• Creates a new evidence-based competitive pilot program to encourage innovation through online courses, competency-based degrees, dual-enrollment programs, accelerated degrees, and efforts to increase the number of credits that transfer from prior institutions.

• Creates new commission to recommend minimum accountability standards for all institutions that receive Title IV dollars.

• Rewards institutions that do best on new accountability measures. Institutions that do best on these measures will receive funding awards to be used for additional need-based aid for students. Institutions that consistently fall below the minimum standards created by the new commission will be incentivized to improve by requiring them to improve over a gradual period or face a loss of Title IV eligibility.