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The State of Federal Student Financial Aid


Mar 3, 2009

With all the talk about spending and stimulus legislation and bailouts, it can be easy to lose track of what benefits taxpayers can actually expect to receive. Most likely, everyone knows that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, perhaps better known as “the stimulus,” will create jobs through funding “shovel-ready” projects and will put a little extra in paychecks through a tax rebate that will take effect this summer.  You probably also know that there’s also financial aid in there for education, but you may not be sure exactly what. [...]

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Details of President Obama's proposed 2010 budget are emerging, with education being one of the first sections unveiled.  In the budget proposal are increases and structural changes to Federal Pell Grants, changes to Federal Perkins Loans, and the potential elimination of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, so that all new Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans for 2010-2011 would be originated by the federal Direct Loans program.  The president's budget also recommends that the new $2500 American Opportunity Tax Credit be made permanent, and that $2.5 billion be devoted over the next five years to programs to increase college access and completion. [...]

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An omnibus appropriations bill for the current fiscal year passed the House yesterday and is on its way to the Senate.  This piece of legislation will raise the maximum award for Federal Pell Grants to $5350 for 2009-2010.  The bill was put on hold last year due to threats of a veto from President Bush. [...]

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In a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress, President Obama called for every American to complete at least one year of postsecondary education and pledged greater financial support for those attending college.  He also urged that America become the "best educated" nation and set the goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. [...]

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In yet another sign that a college education is becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury, a recent study of the stimulus legislation reveals that many of the jobs the stimulus is expected to create will require some education or training beyond high school.  In fact, at least 54 percent of the estimated new positions will require at least a postsecondary certificate according to analysis by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.  Considering a major goal of the stimulus package was to create jobs for less-skilled workers who are usually hardest hit by economic downturns, this figure is especially telling. [...]

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The House of Representatives just passed the compromise version of the economic stimulus package.  Now there are just two stop left for it before it becomes law: the Senate and President Obama's desk.  The Senate plans to vote later this evening, putting it on track to be signed on Monday. [...]

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The Senate passed their version of the economic stimulus bill Tuesday, and by late afternoon yesterday it was announced that a compromise had been reached between the House and the Senate. The compromise bill includes less funding than either version--$789 billion as compared to $820 or $838 billion, and one of the areas that faced cuts was education. [...]

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The student loan rescue plan that will allow the Department of Education to buy up student loans issued since 2003 will begin operating in February.  The plan will set up a bank to act as a "conduit" for purchasing older student loan assets and will also allow the Treasury to become the buyer of last resort for assets the conduit bank is unable to refinance.  The Treasury will buy up student loans through this program for the first 90 days, after which the Department of Education will take over.  The Bank of New York Mellon is currently the only authorized conduit, though more could be added later. [...]

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It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding. [...]

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While it's still a long way from becoming law, the first published draft of the economic stimulus legislation created by the House of Representatives includes billions of dollars for higher education, including several provisions designed to make paying for school easier.  The bill still has to be approved by both the House and the Senate (which is drafting its own stimulus legislation) then signed by the President, so it remains to be seen how many of the following appropriations will make it into the final version of the stimulus package. [...]

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While many stories right now are focusing on financial aid programs finding themselves strapped for cash to award an increased of needy applicants, this is not universally the case. Data published by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that two federal grant programs that were added in 2006 still have more awards than applicants.  The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant have gained some participation, but still they're still falling short of enrollment goals. [...]

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During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Arne Duncan, Obama's appointee for Education Secretary, disclosed broad ideas but few specific plans for education in America.  Much of the hearing before the U.S. Senate focused on elementary and secondary education, though questions related to paying for college did surface.  Duncan's primary focuses appear to be on college access and college affordability, moving away from the emphasis on accountability the nation has seen under Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education. [...]

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Barack Obama became known for his web presence during his Presidential campaign.  He and his transition team have kept up this reputation through YouTube addresses and websites such as Change.gov, the official transitional website.  Now the Obama transition team is asking for public comments--or at least blog comments--on issues related to paying for school.  A post on the Change.gov blog is currently soliciting feedback about college affordability.  While there's no guarantee that the President-elect himself will read your post, if you would like to weigh in on educational policy at least in a small way, you can view and comment on the January 5 Change.gov blog post "Keeping College Affordable."  [...]

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An open letter to Congress appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post yesterday joined what is quickly becoming a chorus of voices asking for financial aid for higher education institutions.  The letter, which was put together by the Carnegie Foundation, was signed by over 40 higher education officials, including leaders of several state university systems.  The letter requests that Congress devote 5 percent of the next stimulus package to improving higher education infrastructure, namely state colleges. [...]

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With bailouts, economic stimulus packages, and a number of other pieces of emergency legislation being passed to prop up seemingly every aspect of the economy this year, a group of organizations connected to student financial aid are asking for additional support for college students.  In a letter to Congress, thirteen higher education advocacy groups, including the Project on Student Debt and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, asked that the next economic stimulus legislation include expansions to financial aid, namely Federal Pell Grants and Federal Work-Study. [...]

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Yesterday, the Federal Reserve and Treasury announced a new program to further shore up the banking industry in the face of a recession that appears to still be worsening.  The program would devote $200 billion to shoring up consumer credit markets, including credit cards, car loans, and student loans.  The hope is that this new program will make these forms of credit more widely available to people who need them, including students who depend on private loans to help pay for school. [...]

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The election is over, and while we're still waiting for some results to come in, such as the ultimate fate of Colorado's anti-affirmative action ballot measure, most races have been decided and commented on. Overall, higher education fared well yesterday, and Inside Higher Ed provides a breakdown of wins and losses for college-related measures, as welll as an in-depth discussion of the brand new affirmative action ban in Nebraska. [...]

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It's November 4th, and that means election day for everyone in the U.S. If you haven't already cast an early or an absentee ballot, here's yet another reminder to show up at the polls today.  Education has become a major concern due to economic instability, decreasing availability of student loans, and the rising costs of attending college.  Today you can make your opinion on education known, and not only in the Presidential and Congressional races. [...]

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Remember that provision in the Higher Education Act that was supposed to help keep tuition down by requiring states to maintain their level of funding for higher education?  Since state governments are required to balance their budgets each year, the act included a provision that allowed the Secretary of Education to waive this "Maintenance of Effort" requirement in the event of "a precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of a State or State educational agency." [...]

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The U.S. Department of Education released a series of new statistical reports last week showing a dramatic increase in participation in the federal direct lending student loan program.  Motivated largely by the economic downturn and the credit crunch of the last year, 400 new colleges joined the federal direct lending program.  Overall, student borrowing through the program has increased by 50 percent in the last year. [...]

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Congress will be in session only a few more days before breaking for the November election.  While a lot has already been accomplished this session in terms of educational spending, such as the passage and renewal of ECASLA and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, some education funding concerns still need to be addressed.  Primary among these is the education and research spending bill that will fund research and federal student financial aid programs for fiscal year 2009, which remains on the Congressional to do list. [...]

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According to a Department of Education memo cited by the New York Times, the Federal Pell Grant program could face a budget shortfall of up to $6 billion in 2009 due to increases in grant amounts and numbers of applicants.  The cap on Pell awards has risen from $4050 to $4731 between 2006 and now, and will increase to $6000 for the 2009-2010 academic year (if funding is available) according to the recently reauthorized Higher Education Act.  Meanwhile, the number of FAFSA applications has risen by nearly 17 percent in the last year alone, driven by a worsening economic situation. [...]

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The House of Representatives voted Monday to extend the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (ECASLA) into the 2009-2010 school year.  The act also has broad support from lenders and financial aid administrators.  The ECASLA was signed into law this May in response to concerns that the credit crunch would have a serious impact on the availability of student loans. [...]

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Yesterday, President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the official reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) which governs federal student financial aid for college, as well as other federal programs and regulations that pertain to higher education. [...]

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The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEA), approved by a joint committee earlier this week, passed both houses of Congress yesterday.  While members of the Bush Administration have expressed some reservations about the bill, the President is still expected to sign it into law.Reactions to the HEA have been mixed, with many universities and organizations critiquing the bill's broad scope, increased requirements for schools, and timing, as it may be nearly impossible to implement all of the changes required by the bill in time for the 2008-2009 school year.  Especially under attack is the act's mandate for schools to provide students with legal alternatives to illegally downloading media, where possible.  While this could be good news for students, many critics fail to see how this [...]
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