[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[October 7, 1998]
[Pages 1751-1753]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Signing the Higher Education Amendments of 1998
October 7, 1998

    Thank you very much. Just so Harold doesn't mistake all that 
applause for me, let's give him another hand. I thought he was--
[applause]. That's what this is all about today.
    I want to thank all the previous speakers--Secretary Riley for being 
the most dedicated, complete, and productive Secretary of Education in 
the history of this country. I'm very grateful to him. [Applause] We 
always salt the crowd with employees of the Education Department. 
[Laughter] We are very, very grateful to you, sir.
    I want to thank Senator Jeffords and Senator Kennedy, Chairman 
Goodling and Congressman Clay, and as was mentioned previously, 
Congressman McKeon and Congressman Kildee, all the members of the 
education committees of the House and the Senate and the staff.
    I'd like to also point out that there are Members who care deeply 
about education who aren't on those committees, and some of them are 
here. We have over 30 Members of the Congress from both parties here. 
I'd like to ask the Members of the Congress who are here who aren't on 
the education committees and, therefore, have not yet stood up, to 
please stand up, all of you who are here.
    I notice Senator Kennedy already acknowledged Senator Specter, 
understanding how the Appropriations Committee works. [Laughter] But his 
presence here means he considers it to be an education committee, and we 
thank you for that.
    I'd like to make one big point first. You've all heard about the 
details of this legislation. What I want us to all be very clear on is 
that the bill I will sign in a few moments will enhance the economic 
strength of America. It will strengthen the communities of America. It 
will improve the lives of the families of America. And it certainly will 
widen the circle of opportunity.
    When I ran for President in 1992, one of the things I most wanted to 
do was to open the doors of college to all Americans who were willing to 
work for it. In the 1980's, the cost of a college education was the only 
really important thing to families that increased at a higher rate than 
the cost of health care.
    And yet, in the world in which we live and certainly in the one in 
which Harold and his contemporaries will live, college is no longer a 
luxury for the well-to-do or even an opportunity for hard-working middle 
class kids whose parents save. It is an economic necessity for every 
American and for our country as a whole.
    That is why we worked so hard in the bipartisan balanced budget 
agreement to create the $1,500 HOPE scholarships; the tax credits for 
the first 2 years of college; tax breaks for junior

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and senior years, for graduate school, for adults going back to school. 
That is why with bipartisan support we dramatically expanded the Pell 
grant program; created 300,000 more work-study positions; the education 
IRA's; the education grants for those serving in AmeriCorps now are 
nearly numbering 100,000 young Americans; student loans payable, or 
repayable, as a percentage of future incomes, so no one needed to fear 
borrowing the money and then being broke if they took a job that didn't 
pay a lot of money; the tax deductibility of the interest on student 
loans. And today, with this lowering of the interest rates, as has 
already been said, to the lowest rate in nearly two decades, we can 
really say that every high school graduate in America, regardless of 
income, can afford to go to college.
    I asked the Congress to slash the interest rates on the student 
loans. As Chairman Goodling said, it was the lowest rate now in 17 
years. Let me tell you what it means to a college student. It's a $700 
tax cut to the average student borrowing for a college degree on the 
front end. And anybody who can remember what it was like back then knows 
that $700 to a college student is still real money.
    I asked Congress to use technology to help all Americans, including 
those in the work force, to upgrade their skills any time, anywhere, and 
this bill does that. I asked them to help us recruit more and better 
trained teachers, to improve teacher training, direct our best teachers 
to schools with the greatest needs. This bill does that.
    Finally, I asked Congress to create a nationwide mentoring program. 
You heard Harold talk about it, the one that affected his life. All of 
us have at some level come in contact with the pioneer program, Eugene 
Lang's ``I Have a Dream'' program in New York City. Many of us have been 
involved at the State level, as I was, in creating scholarships for all 
our young people who achieved a certain level of academic excellence. 
What this bill does is something more and, I think, profoundly 
important. And again, like others, I want to thank Senator Jim Jeffords, 
I want to thank Gene Sperling of my staff who worked on this, and I 
especially want to thank Congressman Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia who 
pushed this so hard. And we thank you, sir.
    This bill seeks to make national what Harold talked about affecting 
his life. It essentially seeks, first of all, to provide mentors to kids 
in their middle school years who need it, and then to give the mentors 
weapons. At a minimum, the mentors will be able to say, ``Look, here's 
who you are. Here's where you come from. Here's how much money you have. 
And if this is what your income looks like when you got out of high 
school and you stay in school and you learn your lessons, we can tell 
you right now, this is how much money you can get to go to college.'' 
Now, it's already there, but they don't know it. So we're not only 
trying to open the doors of college to all Americans but to make sure 
all Americans know the doors are open. And those are two very different 
    Secondly, this bill provides funds to enable partnerships to be 
established between universities and other groups and our middle schools 
so that they can have more programs, hopefully one for every school and 
every student in America, eventually, like the one that benefited 
Harold. So I can't tell you how important I think this is. So now we can 
say we've opened the doors to college to all Americans, and we have a 
system by which, if we really implement it, we can make sure all the 
Americans know the doors are open.
    The other day I was in Philadelphia, and Chaka got a bunch of young 
kids, middle school kids together, and we took them down town and drank 
a Coke with them. Every one of them wanted to go to college. And we 
talked about this program, and every one of them was, I think, impressed 
by the fact that the Congress of the United States actually cared about 
them--and I might add, probably a little surprised--glad to know that 
somehow, somebody was trying to set up a system to really reach down 
into their lives, at one of the most challenging and difficult points in 
those lives, often under the most difficult circumstances under which 
they're living, and open the door to a different future.
    I don't think anyone would question that when Harold talked about 
his friend who's now working as a scientist in Utah, that that young 
person is not only better off, the rest of us are better off as well. 
America is a better place as well.
    I also want to say very briefly, I am personally grateful for the 
Congress in a bipartisan fashion responding to the problem of alcohol 
and drug abuse and the health threat it presents on our campuses--we all 
remember the tragic loss of

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five students last fall in Virginia--by changing the law to allow 
campuses to notify parents when children younger than 21 have alcohol 
and drug violations. We have no way of knowing, but we believe this will 
save lives. And I thank the Congress for giving us the chance to do 
    Let me also say something that I think it's important for me to say 
as President: I am proud not only of what is in this bill but of how 
this bill passed. This is the way America should work. This is the way 
Congress should work. Members of Congress, I assure you, brought their 
different convictions and their partisan views to the debate, and we had 
the debate. But in the end, we acted together; we put the progress of 
the country and the people of the country ahead of our partisan 
differences and reached a principled resolution of the matters in 
dispute. That's the way America is supposed to work, and that's the way 
the American people want us to work. And so I want to thank every one of 
you for making sure on this terribly important issue, that is exactly 
the way you worked. Thank you very much.
    Finally let me just say, in the closing days of this congressional 
session I hope that there will be similar bipartisan action on the 
agenda for public school excellence that I offered 8 months ago, an 
agenda that demands high responsibility and high standards; offers 
choice and opportunity; calls for voluntary national standards and 
voluntary exams to measure their performance, supervised by a completely 
bipartisan committee; an end to social promotion, but help for the 
school districts that end social promotion, so that we don't brand 
children a failure when the system fails them but instead give them 
access to the mentors, the after-school programs the summer school 
programs that they need; an effort to make our schools safer, more 
disciplined, more drug-free; a plan that would provide for 100,000 
teachers, for smaller classes in the early grades; funds to modernize or 
build 5,000 schools at the time when we have the largest student 
population in history; a plan to connect all of our classrooms to the 
Internet by the year 2000.
    Today we celebrate putting partisanship aside for a historic higher 
education law. We can do no less for our public schools. We have to pass 
the agenda, and we must pass, literally, the annual education investment 
bill which funds a lot of the programs, Head Start, technology, the 
summer school and after-school programs. So once again we have to put 
progress ahead of partisanship.
    In this room, many Presidents have signed many pieces of legislation 
into law. Some of them were very momentous. But if, when you leave here 
today, you remember this life story of the young man who spoke before me 
and you imagine how many other people there are like him in America, and 
how many more stories there will be because of this bill, you can all 
feel very, very proud.
    Thank you very much.
    Can I ask the Members to come up, and we'll do this.

Note: The President spoke at 11:48 a.m. in the East Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Harold Shields, a participant in 
the ``Say Yes to Education'' mentoring program. H.R. 6, approved October 
7, was assigned Public Law No. 105-244.