Helping Make College Affordable

Dear Neighbors,

I put myself through college with student loans, Pell Grants, and a heck of a lot of waitressing. In fact, I’m still paying off my student loans even today—so I know how tough paying for school can be. I’ve been working in Congress to make sure higher education is within reach for all American families.

As too many young people know, the skyrocketing costs of higher education have made it almost impossible for everyday American families to afford college without relying on some combination of student loans, federal student aid and a part-time job. Sixty-six percent of college students work either full-time or part-time while enrolled in school to make up the difference between financial aid assistance and the cost of college.

Federal law allows these students to earn a certain amount of income, known as the Income Protection Allowance (IPA), without it affecting eligibility for need-based student financial aid like Pell Grants. However, current IPA levels are set at unrealistically low levels and fail to reflect a student’s actual living expenses.

This flawed formula actually penalizes hard-working students that demonstrate admirable personal responsibility in working to finance their education. Far too many hard-working students earn more than the IPA threshold and see their financial aid unjustly reduced. This work penalty triggers a vicious cycle that forces students to work more hours as they make up the shortfall resulting from reduced financial aid.

Punishing students for working to pay for their education is the last thing we should be doing. That’s why I introduced the Working Students Act, which will protect these students from having their financial aid slashed due to an unfair work penalty.

In recent months, I’ve also introduced the bipartisan CTE Opportunity Act that would remove antiquated eligibility restrictions that prevent students enrolled in many Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs from receiving federal student aid. This bill would provide working students greater opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials that are often needed to secure higher-paying jobs.

I am also the proud sponsor of the Community College to Career (CC2C) Fund Act, which will close the “skills gap” by educating students to develop the skills that match available jobs in their communities by bringing two-year colleges and area businesses together nationwide with the aim of training millions of Americans for jobs in high-skill industries. The Eighth District is leading the way on programs like this, including the Zurich Insurance Apprenticeship at Harper College and the new Kenmode Tool & Die Making Apprenticeship program at Elgin Community College.

I look forward to continuing my work in Congress to fight on behalf of everyday families and help hardworking  young Americans graduate better-prepared for the workforce and with less debt.


Tammy Duckworth
Member of Congress