Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has taken the first step towards approving two key higher education bills that will make college more affordable, protect students from bad actors in the student loan industry, and provide students with clear information they need to understand and manage their debts.

The Committee approved the Higher Education Amendments of 2007, S. 1642, which I supported as an original cosponsor, and the Higher Education Access Reconciliation Act.

After over three years of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a number of key measures to help American students, including a provision to provide meaningful increases to Pell Grants to make college more affordable by boosting the maximum authorized level for low income students by $500 next year.

S. 1642 will restore students’ trust in student loan programs by holding lenders and schools to a code of conduct to ensure that the agreements between lenders and universities work to serve the best interests of students. It will also ensure that students and parents have the information they need about the costs of college and the financial impact of their loans so they can make sound decisions about their futures.

I do not believe that a student or parent at a financial aid fair could be induced into signing up for a lifetime of debt in exchange for trinkets and memorabilia, as some reports suggest. I do believe that we must do more to ensure that students and parents receive sound, honest advice about their student loans, and have the information they need to understand and manage their debts.

The Committee’s reconciliation package includes tradeoffs between loan programs and need-based aid that will help address the challenges of the rising costs of post-secondary education while saving about $1 billion for deficit reduction.

Deficit reduction is a tool that should be taken seriously. While I am pleased that we have saved $1 billion in this process, I will continue to look for additional savings between now and when we consider the bill on the floor.

I know there is concern about the transfer of credit provisions in this bill, and I plan to work with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chairman of the HELP Committee, and others who are interested in the issue to reach an agreement.

I look forward to bringing these bills to the full Senate and working with my colleagues to find ways they can be improved. I welcome their suggestions as we work to ensure that the final bills we pass in the Senate are as strong and as responsible as they can be.