As UTSA students gear up for final exams, the affordability and accessibility of higher education remains at stake in Washington. Too many of our students encounter financial barriers to higher education, and too many others leave college with a mountain of debt. The level of student debt nationwide now totals more than $1 trillion – surpassing credit card debt. It is imperative that we pursue policies to reduce the student debt that burdens so many. San Antonio was recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the top five cities in the nation in increases in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates. More than half of San Antonio students graduating from high school now apply for federal financial aid to help assist with the high costs of college.

We need to make applying for financial aid less of a burden on you and your families. Talented students should not find the FAFSA process to complicated and difficult to complete—there are steps we can take to simplify the process. I am looking forward to working on this issue this Congress.

However, we continue to face big challenges from those in Congress who do not believe in federal aid to education and who oppose adequate funding for student aid. In their budget this year, Republicans tried to limit Pell Grants, which would make college unobtainable for many students of limited means across this country. Unfortunately, attacks like these are not unusual. The top Republican on the Subcommittee that oversees Higher Education policy in the U.S. House of Representatives has told her colleagues that “it is not the role of the Congress to make college affordable and accessible.”

Despite challenges, I continue to work to help ensure that all Roadrunners are able to achieve their full God-given potential. In the past year, I have supported legislation to avoid the doubling of interest rates on federal loans and to continue adequate funding for Pell Grants and other types of federal student financial assistance. I successfully authored the “More Education” tax credit to encourage those seeking education beyond high school. Also known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), this law provides a tax cut to students or their families by up to $10,000 over four years as reimbursement for tuition, textbooks, and other higher education expenses. This $2,500 annual credit can go a long way in making ends meet.

Even those attending school and working part time, who do not have as much as a $2,500 tax liability, can still claim up to $1,000 in a refundable tax credit for eligible educational expenses, which is similar to the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit. I have introduced a bill again this year to make this tax credit permanent at UTSA and to make it work better for students who also receive Pell Grants.

During my visits with students at UTSA, I have heard time and time again about the difficulty students face when trying to finance their education. It is important that students and families affected by the cost of higher education contact their elected officials at the local, state, and federal level to express their support for programs that help students afford college and reduce the level of debt that burdens so many. I believe that an investment in our students is an investment in the future of America, but to maintain that investment, it is essential that UTSA families continue to make their voices heard.

I have been happy to have many Roadrunners serve as interns in my San Antonio and Washington, DC offices. If you would like to apply for an internship or if I can be of assistance on any federal issues, please contact my office by calling 704-1080.

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