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Detroit Free Press: A bipartisan solution to put higher education within reach

May 18, 2015
Opinion Editorial
Congratulations to the Class of 2015. You mastered a skill or subject matter and now possess a strong foundation for success in today's job market.

Along the way, seven out of 10 of you accrued enough student loans that, on average, could cover a down payment on a house. Today, the student loan debt in the U.S. totals more than $1.2 trillion, with an average of $30,000 in loans per student.

According to the College Board, the average in-state tuition for a four-year college or university is $18,943 per year, including room and board. For out-of-state tuition, the average jumps to $32,762. A four-year private college costs $42,419 per year, on average. None of these figures includes books, transportation and other related expenses.

The rising cost of higher education puts a strain on budgets and requires sacrifices.

Paying for college is the financial issue parents worry about the most - more than other money-related concerns like saving for retirement or serious medical expenses. According to a recent Gallup survey, 73% of parents with children younger than 18 worry about saving enough for higher education. For families making less than $30,000 per year, the number jumps to 85%.

As a father and grandfather, I've experienced these same anxieties that stem from wanting to provide your children and grandchildren with every opportunity to have a better future than you did.

Post-secondary education can take many forms - from technical schools to community colleges to four-year universities. Students should be able to choose the best route for their future, without the high cost of obtaining a degree becoming a barrier.

I worked with Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, to introduce legislation to tackle this challenge by helping families save more money for their children's post-secondary education.

Our bipartisan legislation, the Helping Families Save for Education Act, would expand the Coverdell Education Savings Account to provide families with increased financial tools to save for higher education over a longer period of time.

Coverdell ESAs are tax-advantaged accounts where investment earnings grow tax-free. They also provide flexibility on where the money can be spent. In addition to college tuition, Coverdell ESA's can be used for books, computers, and other educational expenses.

Our legislation modernizes the existing program by expanding the annual limits on contributions, from $2,000 to $10,000. It also increases the age limit when contributions can be made, from 18 to 22 years old.

In today's job market, a post-secondary degree is increasingly important to maximizing opportunities for a good-paying job and a stable career.

In an increasingly global economy, Michiganders are not only competing with neighboring states for jobs, but also with foreign countries like China and India. We want our children to have the competitive edge that comes with greater access to quality learning opportunities.

By incentivizing saving and investment and planning ahead, the Helping Families Save for Education Act is a needed bipartisan solution to help bring higher education into reach for many families while reducing their future debt burden.

Tim Walberg, a Republican from Tipton, represents the 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the Education and Workforce Committee. This op-ed originally appeared in the May 15, 2015 edition of the Detroit Free Press.