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Sen. Edward Kennedy was longtime champion of higher education

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass. He was 77.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published today an obituary, written by Kelly Field, that recounts the Senator’s tireless efforts to improve higher education.

Mr. Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for more than four decades, had a hand in the creation of nearly every major federal student-aid program, from Pell Grants in 1972 to the Academic Competitiveness and Smart Grants for high-achieving, low-income students in 2006. In the 1990s, he was a chief architect of the federal direct-loan program, in which the government lends money directly to students through their colleges, and one of its staunchest supporters in the Senate.

Senator Kennedy was also one of the most reliable defenders of student aid, consistently opposing efforts to eliminate programs and offering dozens of budget amendments to increase the maximum Pell Grant….

Mr. Kennedy delivered his “maiden speech” as a senator-his first major commentary from the Senate floor-on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and co-sponsored two major civil-rights measures of the 1970s: the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which guaranteed a “free and appropriate” public education for disabled students, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that banned sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds and led to a boom in women’s participation in college sports.

As chairman of the education committee in the 1990s, Senator Kennedy also played a key role in the creation of direct lending.

Mr. Kennedy had first proposed creating such a program in 1978, along with Sen. Henry L. Bellmon, a Republican from Oklahoma. But the Congressional Budget Office, which provides cost estimates to Congress, said the program would be too expensive, and the plan went nowhere.

The idea had legs, though, and Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican from Minnesota, revived the proposal in the early 1990s. By then, the budget office had changed its accounting rules, and direct lending was seen as a potential cost-saver. With Senator Kennedy’s support, a pilot of the program was included in the 1992 legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

The following year, Bill Clinton took office as president and almost immediately proposed eliminating the bank-based guaranteed-loan system and replacing it with direct lending. When lenders and some Republicans objected, Senator Kennedy helped craft a compromise that allowed colleges to choose between direct lending and the guaranteed-loan program.

Mr. Kennedy championed direct lending for the rest of his career, battling Republican efforts to kill or cap the program. In 2007, Congress approved a Kennedy-sponsored measure that slashed lender subsidies in the bank-based program and directed the savings to student aid. The bill, and other efforts by Mr. Kennedy to expand direct lending, made him unpopular with lenders…

Terry W. Hartle, former longtime aide, told the Chronicle that Mr. Kennedy was also an “old-school senator,” someone who cared about the Senate as an institution and valued its tradition of bipartisanship.

“He was 100 percent a Democrat, but, at the end of the day, he wanted to do the people’s business, and that usually meant working across the aisle,” said Mr. Hartle, who is now senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

Mr. Hartle said it was “hard to imagine education policy without Senator Kennedy’s distinctive voice.”

The senator, he said, is “irreplaceable.”

Tags: Government, School/College


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