The Senate unanimously approved legislation Wednesday to ensure that tight credit markets don't impede students' ability to get college loans.

Like a bill that previously passed the House, the Senate legislation would increase limits on how much borrowers can receive in federally subsidized student loans.

That should decrease student reliance on more expensive private loans. Some students have had trouble getting those nonfederal private loans because lenders have left the market in recent months due to the credit crunch.

Dozens of lenders also have stopped making loans in the federal program. However, where that has happened, other lenders have stepped in or the students have received loans through a smaller program in which the Education Department makes the loans directly to students.

Both the House and Senate bills try to encourage parents to take out federal loans for their children's education by allowing the parents to defer repayments until after their children leave school.

Both bills also would give the Education Department the authority to buy up loans from student lenders to ensure they have access to capital and can keep issuing loans.

The Bush administration has called for such action, as have lenders.

The Senate bill also would increase grant aid to poor students, a provision not in the House legislation. Next step is for lawmakers in both chambers to approve a compromise bill and send it to the president.

The Senate bill was introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, who chairs the education committee.

"Millions of families are facing difficult economic challenges at every turn," he said. "With this legislation. their children's college dreams won't become the next victims of today's troubled economy."