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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), addressed today the need to better ensure access to higher education for Wyoming and the nation's young people.

Enzi's comments came at a HELP committee hearing titled, "Promoting Access to Postsecondary Education: Issues for the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act."

Enzi's full statement follows.

Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
October 16, 2003

Mr. Chairman, there are few issues that we will take up as a committee that are as important or that have more long range implications for our society than today's topic – access to a higher education. A good education has a well earned reputation as the best investment we can make in our children's and our own future. It is vital we continue to do everything we can to ensure our higher education system remains healthy and productive.

As we will learn today, the value of a good education cannot be overstated. Study after study has demonstrated the positive effects of higher education. Those who graduate from an institution of higher education with a two or four year degree can expect to earn significantly more each year than those who have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

In fact, studies consistently show that each year of higher education translates roughly to a 9 percent increase in an individual's wage earnings. That's a better rate of return than you can earn on most investments, and by comparison, it is a very low risk one. That also holds true in Wyoming, where wages are often less competitive than in other states.

Higher wages are associated with a better quality of life, not just for college graduates, but for their children as well. Children of parents who are college graduates are significantly more likely to attend college themselves. That puts the next generation on the same path to greater opportunity and financial success. Higher education is one of the best ways to help families avoid poverty in the long term, because it becomes a family tradition that continues to pay off for generations.

All of these benefits are contingent on an individual being able to attend a college or university, however. Congress has been, and by reauthorizing the Higher Education Act will remain, a consistent partner in the promotion of higher education, and we have helped millions to attend college every year who might not have had the opportunity without our support.

As a Senator from Wyoming, and the father of a daughter who is very involved in our state's education system, I see the question of access to higher education differently than most. Many people don't know this, but with only nine institutions of higher education, Wyoming has fewer than any state except Alaska, and we're only ahead of them by one. Of those we do have, only one is a four year university. Our network of community colleges, the state university, and tribal colleges covers a lot of ground, but there are dozens of communities in Wyoming that are several miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, from the nearest institution of higher education.

That's one of the reasons I introduced legislation earlier this year that would make it easier for students living in rural areas to attend college through distance learning programs. As I've stated, for many potential students in Wyoming, paying for college is only part of the solution. Getting there is just as important.

As the Senate and this Committee move forward with reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, I hope that we will take into consideration all of the factors affecting access to higher education and take whatever action we can to ensure it is available to as many of our young adults as possible.

Simply put, a higher education opens the door to a better way of life. While that door remains locked for far too many of our nation's children, the legislation we take up today has the potential to provide many of them with the key.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.