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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

We need to break down the barriers to higher education

As Washington state and other states across the nation struggle to balance their budgets during these challenging economic times, many have chosen to transfer more of the cost of college to students - making it difficult for some students to earn their college degree.

Tuition rates are set by individual colleges and universities based on state policies. In Washington state, tuition has spiked by double-digit percentages for the second year in row. Full-time students at Washington's public colleges and universities will pay an average of $8,000 in tuition for the 2012-13 school year.

Clearly, a prosperous and successful America depends on an educated population. That is why we must ensure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to pursue a higher education.

On July 1, the interest rate on federal student loans was scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Recent college graduates are already graduating with an average of $22,000 in student loan debt and face an uphill battle to find jobs.

Now is clearly not the time for struggling college graduates to see the cost of their education increase. I was pleased to support legislation to prevent this interest rate increase without contributing to our nation's record debt.

The federal government should also not add new hurdles for universities that increase the cost of providing a quality education. Earlier this year, I supported a bipartisan bill to stop regulations that prevent colleges and universities from establishing remote campuses in different states and impose a federal credit hour requirement preventing many students from graduating early.

While these are steps in the right direction, the cost of college is still out of reach for many Americans. I am committed to preserving access to higher education by supporting legislation repealing costly federal regulations and allowing more students to realize the American dream of earning a college degree.

Information about applying to college and paying for it can be found on the following websites: www.students.gov and www.hecb.wa.gov or by calling the Federal Financial Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.

- U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's 4th Congressional District.

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