Congress revises financial aid act

Rachel Abbey

Any student with federal financial aid has already been affected by the Higher Education Act.

The act outlines financial aid requirements and regulates university policies for the United States. Currently, it is undergoing re-authorization in Congress – a move which will affect anyone who is currently enrolled or plans to enroll in college.

The House of Representatives passed its amendments to the act in July, while the Senate version just left the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week. It is unknown when the bill will go in front of the entire Senate.

Guidelines for financial aid

Federal financial aid for students is the public’s primary interest in the Higher Education Act, said Constance Hawke, director of Federal Relations and associate university counsel.

“It’s all about providing access for students who otherwise would not be able to attend,” she said.

The act sets guidelines for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Direct Loans and work-study programs.

More than 25,000 students at all eight of Kent State’s campuses have some type of federal financial aid, said Mark Evans, director of Student Financial Aid .

He thinks the act will not provide enough money for student aid. The amount of money students can borrow from the government has remained the same for years despite inflation, he said, and it does not look like the new bills will raise the bar much higher.

The growth of offered financial aid is not keeping up with changes in tuition, said David Creamer, vice president for administration.

For example, the amount offered for a Pell Grant may go up $50, but tuition will increase at a disproportionate rate. This can force students to get a more expensive loan, making a college education less accessible overall.

The Senate’s version of the act is more generous to student aid than the House’s proposal, Provost Paul Gaston said.

A tale of two chambers

The Senate’s bill is less costly and intrusive to universities, he said. The House bill wants universities to keep more detailed records of transfer students, causing excess paperwork. Last spring’s proposed ‘student bill of rights’ was also toned down, giving more freedom to universities to judge content in their classrooms.

However, the act still contains many revisions threatening to restrict universities’ freedoms, Hawke said.

The House’s version of the bill contains a provision that would create a list of all universities that raise their tuition beyond a given percentage, Hawke said.

President Carol Cartwright said such regulations cause problems for universities. The less money the government gives to higher education, the higher universities need to raise tuition.

Despite possible problems, the university does not express its concerns individually, Cartwright said. Kent State relies on higher education professional associations, such as the American Council on Education and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, to do lobbying on its behalf.

This decreases confusion by focusing on certain issues, rather than having individual colleges working for their own agendas, Cartwright said.

After the Senate approves a bill, the two versions will go to a conference committee to be reconciled, Gaston said.

Currently, universities follow the previous act, which was extended until a new version is approved, Gaston said. If it had not been, there would not have been financial aid for students this year.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].