Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Education Committee, said the simplification, coupled with other technical fixes she helped negotiate, made the financial aid process easier to navigate for students experiencing homelessness and for students formerly in foster care.
“As the pandemic and economic recession has made it even more difficult for students to afford and continue college,” Ms. Murray said in a statement, “I’m proud we have taken important strides to make our financial aid process work better.”
Democrats also pushed for historically Black colleges and universities to be freed of more than $1.3 billion in federal loans that they took out for capital improvement projects, like new housing and academic halls.
The United Negro College Fund, which helped lobby for the forgiveness, called the win “transformational,” saying that it would work to help the chronically underfunded institutions, including with accreditation renewals and fiscal solvency.
Roderick L. Smothers, the president of Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, Ark., said that he was still reeling from the shock. The measure would wipe out $22 million, about 70 percent to 75 percent of the school’s debt, overnight, he said, and make the college’s wish lists, like a new academic center, a reality.
“This really provides a moment to reset our finances, our balance sheets, our dreams — and it gives us the runway we now need to step back and think more creatively and more audaciously about the things we need to serve our students,” Dr. Smothers said.
He noted that it came in an extraordinary year for Black colleges, which have received huge increases in funding from both Congress and philanthropists, and widespread bipartisan support in their mission to take the nation’s most vulnerable student populations and build a strong, Black middle class.
“It feels like a form of reparations,” Dr. Smothers said.