Bill to relieve higher ed costs

University fees will increase this fall, but students may finally get some relief from today's college costs, thanks to a bill passed by Congress last month.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act is a package of legislation designed to make college education more accessible and less expensive for all students. The bill includes provisions to rein in tuition hikes, curb predatory lending to students, expand federal student aid and impose regulations on textbook companies. President George W. Bush is expected to sign the act, which passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins, later this month.

The legislation is largely composed of measures that will make information more readily available to students when choosing a school, signing a student loan and buying textbooks.

If the law is put into effect, a list of the country's most expensive schools and schools with the steepest tuition hikes will be published each year. Schools with the largest tuition increases will be required to report the reasons for increases to the U.S. Department of Education, while those with lower tuitions will be rewarded with more grant money for need-based aid.

Under the new legislation, lenders will be prohibited from charging extra fees to students who pay off their loans early. Students will also be allowed 30 days to consider whether to take a loan without the terms changing, and three days after signing will be allowed to back out without penalty.

One-third of UC Berkeley students are currently eligible for Pell Grants, but the under the legislation, coverage will be expanded to support low-income, disabled and non-traditional students. The amount of money available to grant recipients will also increase up to $9,000 per student and will be available year-round.

The most immediate effects of the legislation will be visible this fall when students go to buy books. The campus's Financial Aid Office estimates that the average UC Berkeley student will spend $1,268 on books and supplies this coming year. The bill aims to drive down the cost of books by requiring textbook companies to disclose the price of each textbook to the professor who orders it.

"People who select textbooks are not the people who buy them, so price doesn't factor into textbook sales the way it would in a normal market," said Nicole Allen, textbook campaign director for the Student Public Interest Research Groups, which lobbied for regulations on textbook companies.

In addition to making textbook prices more accessible to professors, companies will be required to disclose information about the changes in each new edition of a textbook. Students will be able to decide whether it is worth paying for the new book or if they should buy a used, older edition instead. The new legislation also requires all bundled textbooks, now sold as a package with workbooks or CD-ROMs for a higher price, to be sold separately.

"We applaud the intent of Congress to address the cost of textbooks," said Tom Kline, a spokesperson for Follett in a statement. Follett operates the ASUC bookstore. "Given the challenging aspects of the act, Follett is ready to support UC Berkeley and all of Follett's institutional partners to help ensure compliance with the new law," he said.

Tessa Stuart reports for UC Berkeley's The Daily Californian. The Daily Californian is partnering with Campus Politico for the 2008 elections.

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