Proposed bills could affect financial aid

Rachel Abbey

The growth in offered financial aid is not keeping up with changes in the price of higher education, said David Creamer, vice president for Administration, making higher education less accessible to students.

Congress is currently looking at bills for the Higher Education Act. The House of Representatives has passed their version of the bill, but the Senate’s bill still has to be presented in front of the entire assembly for discussion and voting. Congress recently passed a temporary continuation of the bill until a new version is created.

Right now, anything in the bills can be changed, and there are no definite decisions. However, where the bills agree, it is likely the provision will make it into the final version, said Mark Evans, director of Student Financial Aid.

About 22,000 Kent State students borrow money for college through subsidized federal student loan programs, Evans said. The bills propose an increase of about $1,000 in the amount a student can borrow freshman and sophomore year.

However, the lifetime limit a student can borrow will not increase, Evans said. They will just be able to borrow more of that money at the beginning of their education.

“We are long overdue in terms of adjusting those annual amounts,” Evans said.

1992 was the last time these loan amounts were adjusted, he said. The financial aid community wanted a much larger increase of about $7,500, but the actual amount will most likely be much lower.

“While we’re appreciative of those increases, they fall short of what the financial aid community had recommended,” Evans said.

He said they were also hoping for a larger increase in the amount of money offered through Pell Grants. While the monetary increase will most likely be less than hoped, the bills propose Pell Grants be offered year-round, rather than just in the fall and spring. This could help students attain a degree faster since they could attend all year in classes, rather than skipping summer semester.

The bills also call for a continuation of experimental sites, which allows certain schools to relax financial aid regulations and record their findings, Evans said. Kent State is one of 140 schools in the nation in this program. The universities go without certain regulations being reconsidered for effectiveness and report their findings to the Department of Education and Congress.

“It simplifies the delivery of student financial aid,” Evans said.

For example, freshmen are not supposed to receive subsidized loans until 30 days into the semester. Evans said Kent State can give students this money at the start of school, which helps students pay their bills, get refunds to pay for other expenses and reduces the need for short-term loans. These relaxed regulations affect more than 25,000 students at Kent State who receive some federal financial aid.

Some issues which could indirectly affect offered student financial aid include grants to national security-related fields and the rights of for-profit universities.

In the 1960s, grants were offered to students in fields where there were shortages, such as nursing and education, Creamer said. Now one of the most important issues to the federal government is national security, so proposed grants would strengthen related programs, such as foreign languages and the sciences.

However, the overall pot of available federal money will not grow, so the grant money could come from areas which had previously been given to a wider range of students, Creamer said.

This pool of resources could also be pulled from to offer additional funding for for-profit universities, Provost Paul Gaston said. Currently, for-profit schools have to get at least 10 percent of their funding from non-federal sources. However, proposed provisions would relax this requirement, possibly requiring an increase in the amount of money the federal government gives to these universities.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].