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Congress Wrangling With Rising Cost Of Higher Education

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Physical Therapists May Soon Be Eligible For Loan Forgiveness

Physical therapists might be enjoying some student debt relief in the near future if Congress gets its way. On February 7, the House approved The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, H.R. 4137, which would allow physical therapists to apply for student loan forgiveness.

The wide-reaching Bill, introduced by Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), aims to overhaul the 1960s Higher Education Act and ensure better access to college education for all qualified Americans, especially those from low- and middle-income families. Among its many priorities, H.R. 4137 would provide service-based loan forgiveness as a means to encouraging students to enter “critically needed” fields.

Physical therapy is now counted among those fields, thanks to an amendment introduced by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA). This comes as welcome news to many would-be-PTs, who are looking at a high debt-to-income ratio when making their career choices. To qualify, PTs would need to work with children, the disabled or veterans. Now that physical therapy has reached Congress’ bar for a loan forgiveness-worthy field, occupational therapists are quickly organizing to lobby for the same treatment.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act is the second major piece of higher education legislation introduced to Congress in the last year. In September 2007, President Bush signed into law the first piece: the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which will provide an additional $20 billion in college student federal aid over the next five years.

The new law, which received rare bipartisan support, took a strong stand against reports of unethical student loan practices. Investigations had revealed that lenders were offering incentives to university officials in order to increase the number of borrowers from their campus.

Slapping lenders on the wrist, the new law cuts their federal subsidies, redirecting the funds toward federal grants for low-income students. Later this year, the Pell Grant will be increased up to $4,800/year; by 2012, the Pell will provide up to $5,400 annually. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act will also cut in half the interest rates on federally subsidized loans over the next five years.

>>> Qualifying For Need-Based Student Loans

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