The affordability of higher education is one of the hottest topics facing legislators today. Two-thirds of students enrolled in American colleges and universities graduate with debt, according to Forbes. And these student loans amount to a total of $1.2 trillion—with $1 trillion in federal loans.

Debts for graduating architecture students are higher than average, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). The study, with responses from 547 participants, found that students graduating with B.Arch. degrees leave school with an average of $42,300 in federal and private loans, and students graduating with M.Arch. degrees with an average of $72,000. The survey also concluded that architecture students face a hefty amount of hidden costs outside of the program’s tuition and fees, including expenses such as materials for models and project submissions.

Yesterday, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) introduced the National Design Services Act (NDSA), a bill written by the AIA and the AIAS to try to help alleviate this massive accumulation of debts for architecture students. The bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), provides loan assistance for architecture students who work at community design centers in underserved areas. For each year of service, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will pay a certain amount of the student’s loan. HUD will either apply loan repayments directly to loan balances or provide grants for internships at community design centers.

This bill is designed specifically for design professionals and provides relief in the same way that young lawyers, doctors, and teachers can obtain loan assistance through community service. In addition, according to the AIA, the NDSA would enable communities to receive a broad range of architecture services that may not have otherwise been available, and would get architecture graduates the financial assistance they need to stay in the profession.

“Millions of young people aspire to help their communities build a better future—but a lack of opportunity and the crushing cost of education hold them back,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, in a press release. “As a result, the design and construction industry faces a severe shortage of talent, at exactly the moment America needs to start rebuilding for the future.”

In the press release, Ivy also promised the “full resources of the AIA” and the support of the architecture community, specifically when more than 600 AIA members convene next week in Washington, D.C. for the AIA’s annual grassroots conference. One recent graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Design, Evan Litvin, has already launched an online petition that is trying to enlist the support of architects nationwide to help facilitate prompt passage of the NDSA.

ARCHITECT will be tracking the National Design Services Act as it makes its way in Congress. Stay tuned for more coverage.