Senators Udall, Heinrich Stand Up For NM College Students, Call For Renewal Of Perkins Loan Program

57-year-old program that helps low-income students afford college in NM and nationwide expired on September 30

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have sent a letter, cosigned by the majority of the Senate, to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid urging them to take up and pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Perkins Student Loan Program. This critical lifeline for many low-income students in New Mexico and across the country expired on September 30.

The Perkins Student Loan Program, the nation’s oldest federal student loan program, has existed with broad bipartisan support since 1958 and has provided more than $28 billion in loans through almost 26 million awards to students in all 50 states. In the last academic year alone, the program lent $1.1 billion to more than half a million students with financial need across more than 1,500 institutions of higher education. During the 2013-2014 school year, the program provided $7 million in aid to New Mexico students.

“Perkins Loans have made it possible for thousands of New Mexico students to attend college, and current and future students at our state’s colleges and universities are counting on these loans to pay their tuition,” Sen. Udall said. “Improving access to higher education is one of the most important things we can do to boost family incomes and build a stronger economy in New Mexico. We need to do everything we can to ensure all qualified students have a fair shot at getting a college degree. The Senate must act quickly to save the Perkins Loan program by reauthorizing it.”

“During the last school year, Perkins Student Loan Program provided more than $7 million in funding to thousands of New Mexico students who may otherwise not be able to afford a college,” Sen. Heinrich said. “Higher education is one of the most important investments a person can make for their future. Yet the soaring cost of college often inhibits students from furthering their education. Our economy depends on a skilled workforce and making college affordable is an investment in America’s future.”

The Federal Perkins Student Loan Program partners with many New Mexico colleges to ensure students have the financial support to attend classes, including Central New Mexico Community College, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology, New Mexico Military Institute, New Mexico State University, Northern New Mexico College, Saint John’s College, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, University of New Mexico, University of the Southwest, and Western New Mexico University.

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Reid:

On October 1, the authorization of the Perkins Loan Program, the nation’s oldest federal student loan program and a critical lifeline for many low-income students, expired. While our colleagues in the House of Representatives unanimously approved a one-year, no-cost extension of the program through the Higher Education Extension Act (H.R. 3594), the Senate has yet to advance that measure. As a result, thousands of current and future students face uncertainty and hundreds of institutions are struggling to find another way to help their neediest students afford their education. We write to express our strong support for the Perkins Loan Program and to request that the Senate take up and pass the Higher Education Extension Act as soon as possible.

The Perkins Loan Program has existed with broad bipartisan support since 1958 and has provided more than $28 billion in loans through almost 26 million awards to students in all 50 states. In the last academic year alone, the program lent $1.1 billion to more than half a million students with financial need across more than 1,500 institutions of higher education.

The Perkins Loan Program disburses financial aid to students through a campus-based revolving fund that leverages federal dollars with significant institutional investment. Colleges and universities have continued to participate in this self-sustaining program despite a lapse in federal appropriations for nearly a decade. The required institutional capital contribution gives colleges and universities “skin in the game,” and the loan payments from graduates are used to make new loans to other students. As a campus-based program, Perkins also enables these institutions to provide targeted support to the students they know have the greatest financial need. That is why it is broadly supported by higher education groups, including the Association of American Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators, the Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations, the American Council on Education and many others, as well as dozens of individual colleges and universities across the country.

There are many students who will be disadvantaged by the Senate’s inaction and the program’s expiration. For example, students who have previously received Perkins loans will lose their eligibility if they change institutions or academic programs. In addition, if the program is not reauthorized soon, students seeking Perkins loans for the upcoming winter and spring semesters in 2016 may be ineligible. All future students will be ineligible for this vital program, which helps fill the gaps between what is available through the Direct Loan Program and a family’s ability to pay. On average, this is $2,000 in financial aid. As many as 150,000 current freshmen will lose access to these loans in the next academic year.

Many Senators have proposals aimed at making our various federal student aid programs work better for students, parents, and institutions. We look forward to discussing and debating ways to improve these important federal supports for higher education during this congress. In the meantime, we should immediately take up and pass the House-passed extension to provide certainty to students and ensure that this important source of student financial assistance is not interrupted.

Immediately taking up the House-passed extension bill is a simple solution that can provide clarity in the near term to students and the colleges and universities that serve them without any cost to the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that this one-year extension would incur no new costs to the federal government because it includes limitations on the length of student participation in the program. The House has already acted unanimously to extend the Perkins Loan Program for one year. We urge you to take up and pass the Higher Education Extension Act without delay.