Sen. Murphy unveils college affordability bill

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HARTFORD — Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy announced proposed federal legislation aimed at making college more affordable for students and families.

The Democratic Senator appeared Friday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to unveil his College Affordability and Innovation Act.  He will co-sponsor bill along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim  Hines.

Murphy is a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committee.

The bill aims to encourage colleges to shorten the time it takes students to earn a degree, thus reducing money spent on tuition.

“If you’re a computer science major and you’ve learned everything necessary to earn that degree, why should you have to spend 4 years if you learned it in 2 years?” Murphy said.

Murphy’s plan could also punish schools by reducing their federal aid  if they keep students around too long and if students can’t make enough money after college to repay loans.

Murphy said his plan offers accountability.

“That rewards schools that are affordable and are getting good outcomes but frankly punishes schools that have unfordable degrees or aren’t getting good outcomes,” Murphy said.

Sen. Chris MurphyMurphy said the bill calls for making college more affordable by “prioritizing innovation and holding schools accountable for meeting minimum standards,” such as streamlining the transfer credit processes.

A recent report that found UConn is rejecting more than 20 percent of the transfer credits from students coming from the state’s community college system. “I think a lot of college community college administrators are frustrated that their students are having to repeat coursework when they go to, not just from UConn but other profit and not-for-profit school,” Murphy said.

In 2011, the state asked the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities Board of Regents to set up a transfer and articulation policy to create a seamless transition between community colleges and universities. However, lawmakers say Board of Regent staff members only started working on crafting the policy in late 2014.

Brandon Gilnite, a sophomore at Manchester Community College, took nine credits of coursework in the one semester he attended Eastern Connecticut State University. Gilnite said MCC only accepted one credit of his ECSU coursework. “That was a complete waste of money,” Gilnite said.

Around the campus of Manchester Community College there are no shortage of stories about the hardship associated with the soaring cost of higher education.

“It gets harder for people to pay for school especially after the financial aid aren’t paying for it– a lot of people are having to leave school and work,” said Quise Pina, a student at MCC.

State Sen. Dante Bartolemo, a member of the committee of higher education, appeared with Murphy to voice her support of his bill.  She is also working on ways to improve college affordability, including improving transparency within the financial aid system.

“We want to  see what our institutions are loaning and how they are helping their students to achieve that education,” said Sen. Bartolemo.