WASHINGTON, D.C. – A major higher education bill that cleared Congress today includes a provision sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would make it easier for military members and their spouses to qualify for federal student aid.


Under the legislation, service members and their spouses would no longer have to count housing allowances and the value of on-base housing as income, making it easier to qualify for Pell Grants and other federal student aid. Murkowski’s amendment would most benefit those military personnel earning less than $35,000 a year, such as privates, seamen’s apprentices, lance corporals, airmen and corporals.


“These brave men and women, their spouses, and children sacrifice much for the sake of our nation,” Murkowski said. “I am proud that we were able to make it easier for these families to qualify for the financial help they need to attend college and job training.”


The legislation passed both the Senate and the House today and now heads to the White House, where President Bush is expected to sign it.


Murkowski, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which authored the higher education bill, also won inclusion of  another provision that authorizes funding for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. That program is designed to recruit and support Alaska Native students in engineering, science and technology programs at the University of Alaska.


“This program has been so successful because it identifies students who have an interest in math, science and technology while they are still in middle school, steers them toward the courses they’ll need in high school to be successful in college, then mentors them throughout their college career,” Murkowski said.


The Higher Education Opportunity Act also includes:

  • a number of additional provisions designed to help members of our Armed Forces—active duty, Guard, and Reserve components—and veterans who are serving or who have served on active duty to access and afford postsecondary education;

•     changes designed to make college textbooks more affordable;

•     increased and improved access to information about the cost of college and the availability of financial aid;

•     rules intended to increase students’ safety on campus;

•     greater state involvement in, and accountability to the public for, the success of  teacher preparation programs;

•     greater support for institutions that serve minorities, such the University of Alaska and Ilisagvik College; and

•     greater transparency and integrity in the private student loan market.


“I encourage every Alaskan who is interested in job training or college to go to my website at murkowski.senate.gov to learn more about this legislation,” Murkowski said. “This bill represents a giant leap forward in helping both young people and adults access the higher education opportunities they want and deserve.”