President Clinton Signs Legislation Reauthorizing The Higher Education Act

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 7, 1998


The East Room

11:48 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Just so Harold doesn't mistake all that applausefor me,let's give him another hand. I thought he was -- (applause.) That's whatthisis all about today.

I want to thank all the previous speakers -- Secretary Riley forbeingthe most dedicated, complete and productive Secretary of Education in thehistory of this country. I'm very grateful to him. (Applause.) We always saltthe crowd with employees of the Education Department. (Laughter.) We arevery,very grateful to you, sir.

I want to thank Senator Jeffords and Senator Kennedy, ChairmanGoodlingand Congressman Clay, and, as was mentioned previously, Congressman McKeonandCongressman Kildee, all the members of the education committees of theHouse andthe Senate and the staff.

I'd like to also point out that there are members who care deeplyabouteducation who aren't on those committees, and some of them are here. Wehaveover 30 members of Congress from both parties here -- I'd like to ask themembers of the Congress who are here who aren't on the education committees and,therefore, have not yet stood up, to please stand up. All of you who arehere.(Applause.)

I notice Senator Kennedy already acknowledged Senator Specter,understanding how the Appropriations Committee works. (Laughter.) But hispresence here means he considers it to be an education committee -- and wethankyou for that. (Applause.)

I'd like to make one big point first. You've all heard about thedetails of this legislation. What I want us to all be very clear on isthat thebill I will sign in a few moments will enhance the economic strength ofAmerica.It will strengthen the communities of America. It will improve the livesof thefamilies of America. And it certainly will widen the circle ofopportunity.

When I ran for President in 1992, one of the things I most wantedto dowas to open the doors of college to all Americans who were willing to workforit. In the 1980s, the cost of a college education was the only reallyimportantthings to families that increased at a higher rate than the cost of healthcare.

And yet, in the world in which we live and certainly in the one inwhichHarold and his contemporaries will live, college isno longer a luxury for the well-to-do or even an opportunity forhard-working, middle-class kids whose parents save. It is aneconomic necessity for every American and for our country as a whole.

That is why we worked so hard in the bipartisan,balanced budget agreement to create the $1,500 Hope Scholarships, thetax credits for the first two years of college, tax breaks for juniorand senior year, for graduate school, for adults going back toschool. That is why with bipartisan support we dramatically expandedthe Pell Grant program, created 300,000 more work-study positions,the education IRAs -- the education grants for those serving inAmeriCorps now are nearly numbering 100,000 young Americans --student loans payable, or repayable, as a percentage of futureincomes, so no one needed to fear borrowing the money and then beingbroke if they took a job that didn't pay a lot of money; the taxdeductibility of the interest on student loans. And today, with thislowering of the interest rates, as has already been said, to thelowest rate in nearly two decades, we can really say that every highschool graduate in America, regardless of income, can afford to go tocollege. (Applause.)

I asked the Congress to slash the interest rates on thestudent loans. As Chairman Goodling said, it was the lowest rate nowin 17 years. Let me tell you what it means to a college student.It's a $700 tax cut to the average student borrowing for a collegedegree on the front end. And anybody who can remember what it waslike back then knows that $700 to a college student is still realmoney.

I asked Congress to use technology to help allAmericans, including those in the work force, to upgrade their skillsany time, anywhere, and this bill does that. I asked them to help usrecruit more and better-trained teachers, to improve teachertraining, direct our best teachers to schools with the greatestneeds. This bill does that.

Finally, I asked Congress to create a nationwidementoring program -- you heard Harold talk about it, the one thataffected his life. All of us have at some level come in contact withthe Pioneer Program -- Eugene Lang's "I Have a Dream" program in NewYork City. Many of us have been involved at the state level, as Iwas, in creating scholarships for all our young people who achieved acertain level of academic excellence.

What this bill does is something more, and I thinkprofoundly important. And again, like others, I want to thankSenator Jim Jeffords, I want to thank Gene Sperling of my staff whoworked on this, and I especially I want to thank Congressmen ChakaFattah of Philadelphia who pushed this so hard. (Applause.)

This bill seeks to make national what Harold talkedabout affecting his life. It essentially seeks, first of all, toprovide mentors to kids in their middle school years who need it, andthen to give the mentors weapons. At a minimum, the mentors will beable to say, look, here's who you are, here's where you come from,here's how much money you have. And if this is what your incomelooks like when you got out of high school and you stay in school andyou learn your lessons, we can tell you right now, this is how muchmoney you can get to go college. Now, it's already there, but theydon't know it. So we're not only trying to open the doors of collegeto all Americans, but to make sure all Americans know the doors areopen. And those are two very different things.

Secondly, this bill provides funds to enablepartnerships to be established between universities and other groupsand our middle schools so that they can have more programs, hopefullyone for every school and every student in America, eventually likethe one that benefitted Harold. So I can't tell you how important Ithink this is. So now we can say, we've opened the doors of collegeto all Americans, and we have a system by which, if we reallyimplement it, we can make sure all the Americans know the doors areopen.

The other day I was in Philadelphia, and Chaka got abunch of young kids, middle school kids together, and we took themdown town and drank a Coke with them. Every one of them wanted to goto college. And we talked about this program, and every one of themwas, I think, impressed by the fact that the Congress of the UnitedStates actually cared about them -- and I might add, probably alittle surprised. Glad to know that somehow, somebody was trying toset up a system to really reach down into their lives, at one of themost challenging and difficult points in those lives, often under themost difficult circumstances under which they're living, and open thedoor to a different future.

I don't think anyone would question that when Haroldtalked about his friend who's now working as a scientist in Utah,that that young person is not only better off, the rest of us arebetter off as well. America is a better place as well. (Applause.)

I also want to say very briefly, I am personallygrateful for the Congress in a bipartisan fashion responding to theproblem of alcohol and drug abuse and the health threat it presentson our campuses -- we all remember the tragic loss of five studentslast fall in Virginia -- by changing the law to allow campuses tonotify parents when children younger than 21 have alcohol and drugviolations. We have no way of knowing, but we believe this will savelives. And I thank the Congress for giving us the chance to do that.

Let me also say something that I think it's importantfor me to say as President -- I am proud not only of what is in thisbill, but of how this bill passed. This is the way America shouldwork. This is the way Congress should work. Members of Congress, Iassure you, brought their different convictions and their partisanviews to the debate, and we had the debate. But in the end, we actedtogether. We put the progress of the country and the people of thecountry ahead of our partisan differences and reached a principledresolution of the matters in dispute. That's the way America issupposed to work, and that's the way the American people want us towork. And so I want to thank every one of you for making sure onthis terribly important issue, that is the exactly the way youworked. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Finally let me just say, in the closing days of thiscongressional session I hope that there will be similar bipartisanaction on the agenda for public school excellence that I offeredeight months ago -- an agenda that demands high responsibility andhigh standards; offers choice and opportunity; calls for voluntarynational standards and voluntary exams to measure their performance,supervised by a completely bipartisan committee; and the end tosocial promotion, but help for the school districts that end socialpromotion so that we don't brand children a failure when the systemfails them, but instead give them access to the mentors, theafter-school programs, the summer school programs that they need; aneffort to make our schools safer, more disciplined, more drug-free; aplan that would provide for 100,000 teachers, for smaller classes inthe early grade; funds to modernize or build 5,000 schools at thetime when we have the largest student population in history; a planto connect all of our classrooms to the Internet by the year 2000.

Today we celebrate putting partisanship aside for ahistoric higher education law. We can do no less for our publicschools. We have to pass the agenda, and we must pass, literally,the annual education investment bill which funds a lot of theprograms -- Head Start, technology, the summer school andafter-school programs.

So once again we have to put progress ahead ofpartisanship. In this room, many Presidents have signed many piecesof legislation into law. Some of them were very momentous. But if,when you leave here today, you remember this life story of the youngman who spoke before me and you imagine how many other people thereare like him in America, and how many more stories there will bebecause of this bill, you can all feel very, very proud.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.)

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