WASHINGTON - Congress yesterday sent to President Bush the first major overhaul in a decade of the federal higher education act, giving strong, bipartisan backing to a bill aimed at making college more accessible and affordable for hundreds of thousands of low-income, minority, military, and disabled students.
The legislation would give prospective students more information about college tuitions and textbook costs, simplify application procedures, and make Pell Grants, the main federal aid program for low-income students, available year-round.
The Senate approved the measure 83 to 8 hours after the House passed it on a 380 to 49 vote. The White House has complained the legislation creates new costly and duplicative programs, but President Bush is expected to sign it.
The bill "takes major steps to expand college access and affordability," Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement.
Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has for years led negotiations to rewrite a federal higher education act that passed in 1998 and expired five years ago.
Passage comes a year after Congress, concerned about the soaring costs of going to college, took other steps, including cutting interest rates on student loans, raising Pell Grants, and redirecting billions of dollars from lender subsidies to programs targeting students more directly.
This bill focuses more on transparency: It requires the Education Department to publish detailed data about college pricing trends on its websites and requires the top 5 percent of colleges with the greatest cost increases over three years to explain those cost rises to the Education Department.