January 26, 2000: Column on College Opportunity



January 26, 2000

Over the past 20 years, the average cost of a college education has doubled. Meanwhile, incomes and financial aid have not kept pace, leaving many Americans, the moment a child is born, worried about how they'll handle those hefty college bills.

Balanced against this worry is the deeply held belief that lives are transformed by education -- that by opening the doors of college to our children, we offer them a chance at the American dream.

Under this administration's leadership, we have made progress in putting a college education within the reach of every American. Federal student aid has doubled, Pell Grants have increased by half, work-study funds are up 40 percent, and the HOPE Scholarship and Lifelong Learning programs now offer tax credits to some college students.

Recognizing that it has become difficult for even middle-class families to manage the costs of college, last Thursday, I joined my husband to unveil the College Opportunity Tax Cut, a proposal that would offer up to $2,800 in annual tax relief to cover college, graduate school and job training.

This tax cut is just one piece of the ambitious agenda that my husband intends to pursue over the course of this, his final year in office -- an agenda that he will lay out in full in Thursday's State of the Union address.

Among other proposals announced this month are an expansion of a successful program designed to lift millions of working Americans out of poverty, new ways to shoulder the costs of health care, and an equal pay initiative that would expand opportunities for women and help combat wage discrimination.

At the heart of the Clinton presidency is the notion that, in return for individual responsibility, we must expand opportunity. In other words, when individuals work hard and play by the rules, their efforts should be rewarded with the tools they need to succeed.

A key piece of the President's "New Opportunity Agenda" is an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit that would provide tax relief for 6.4 million hard-pressed working families. We know the EITC works. In 1993, the President signed into law the biggest EITC expansion ever, providing a tax cut for 15 million working families. Since then, in combination with other steps, such as increasing the minimum wage, 4.3 million Americans have been lifted out of poverty, and we have witnessed the largest drop in child poverty in over 30 years.

As someone who has worked for many years to craft a solution to one of the biggest challenges facing our nation, it frustrates me that 44 million Americans still have no health insurance. So, I am pleased that the budget will include a major new initiative to expand health care coverage -- the largest investment since the establishment of Medicare in 1965 -- and one of the most significant steps we can take to help hard-working families.

Under the Children's Health Insurance Program, a national initiative that I am proud to have been associated with since its inception, poor children across the country now have access to health care coverage. Although enrollment in CHIP has doubled to over 2 million in the past year, many children are still missing out on the health care they deserve. So, as part of the President's proposal, not only will we continue to work with states to find new ways to enroll eligible children, but we will now extend access to coverage to uninsured parents as well.

Another effort to help those who work hard and play by the rules would level the playing field for working women. The President's proposal strengthens enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, and educates employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities.

Our economy, with its 20 million new jobs, is stronger today than it has been in generations. Next month, thanks in part to working women, we will mark the longest economic expansion in American history. But although wages for women have increased 25 percent since 1992, and the pay gap -- adjusted for experience and education -- has narrowed by about half since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women still make only 75 cents for every dollar a man makes. Sadly, the gap widens for older women and women of color; African-American women take home only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a white man; Hispanic women just 55 cents.

Despite the claims of cynics that little of importance happens in election-year Washington, my husband is determined to leave office having fulfilled his promise to give Americans the opportunity to succeed. So, over the course of the next year, rather than a slackening of the pace, you can expect a focused and energetic drive to ensure that America's workers have what they need to support their families, purchase affordable health care, earn the same wage for the same job, and send their children to college. This, after all, is what the American dream is all about.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.



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