US: Increase access and affordability: task force

American Vice President Joe Biden released the annual report of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class last month. The report said that among the most effective means of helping American families secure economic stability was increasing access and affordability to higher education.

The taskforce committee spent the past year researching ways to improve the living conditions of working and middle-class families.

"It has long been one of the core aspirations of middle-class families to provide their children with the opportunity to get a college education," the report stated.

"Post-secondary education is strongly linked to higher earnings and greater economic mobility, offering one of the most reliable routes to a good career while providing a critical path into the middle class for children from lower-income families."

The task force's findings include budget recommendations for the 2011 financial year. These include capping student loan payments at 10% of a borrower's income and forgiving debt after 20 years, and shifting all federal lending to the Direct Loan Program.

This would allocate more than $80 billion to need-based aid and access and retention programmes. The report also calls for extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit and making historic investments in community colleges and "minority serving institutions".

The recommendation to shift lending to the Direct Loan Program is a key element in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which passed the House of Representatives in September and is pending review in the Senate.

"These findings highlight what millions of students and families already painfully know, that college costs are out of control," said Gregory Cendana, President of the United States Student Association.

Cendana, who attended Biden's release of the report, said his association was "thrilled to see the Task Force recommending passage of student aid reform legislation that would put students over banks in the federal loan system".

"The Obama administration clearly recognises the link between college affordability and a strong economy," he said.