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College Groups Protest 50% Cuts in Student Aid

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Washington--Representatives of 13 higher-education associations warned at a press conference here last week that President Reagan's expected decision to seek massive cuts in student postsecondary-aid programs in his fiscal 1983 budget request to Congress would jeopardize the higher-education plans of thousands of college-bound high-school seniors.

Although the President was not expected to release the details of his budget request until Feb. 8, members of the newly created Action Committee for Higher Education said they had been shown a preliminary draft of the document calling for 50-percent cuts in the 1983 authorization for five federal programs aimed at helping students and their families meet steadily climbing college costs.

"To be very blunt about it, that budget, we believe, will be a disaster for students in higher education," said Jack W. Peltason, president of the American Council on Education (ace).

Abandoning a Commitment

"It means that this Administration is advocating the abandonment of a bipartisan, 25-year-old commitment that college will not be denied to any person because of the financial condition of his or her family,'' Mr. Peltason continued. "This commitment was meant to avoid a two-track system in which the sons and daughters of the wealthy attend one kind of institution and the sons and daughters of the poor attend others."

According to documents provided by the ace at the press conference, President Reagan will ask for funding cuts in the following programs:

Pell Grants would be cut by 40 percent, removing more than one million college students from eligibility--almost one-third of all current recipients. Aid for students at or below the poverty level would be sharply reduced by cutting the Pell Grant maximum award from $1,800 in the fiscal 1982 continuing resolution to $1,400.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which currently provide aid to approximately 615,000 students in higher-priced institutions, would be eliminated.

National Direct Student Loans, which provide low-cost loans to about 266,000 students annually, would also be eliminated.

State Student Incentive Grants, which match state funds with federal money to provide aid to more than 300,000 students, would be eliminated as well.

The College Work/Study Program would be slated for a 27-percent reduction, taking 250,000 students off the job rolls.

Guaranteed Student Loans would be denied to graduate and professional students, who make up between 15 and 20 percent of all borrowers in this program. More than 50 percent of all graduate students currently receive aid from this program.

Additional cuts totaling $136 million would be sought in the current fiscal year, from levels set in the fiscal 1982 continuing resolution. (In addition, the Congress has voted to phase out educational benefits under the Social Security Administration on the grounds that other federal grant and loan programs are adequate.)

Dallas Martin, executive director of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Officers, said that although it was possible that future administrations could decide to renew funding of these aid programs, the current budget cuts "would destroy the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of college students."

"We may be able to recover some of these funds in the future, but the students who would be caught in the middle of this funding crisis will never be able to recover this lost opportunity for an education," Mr. Martin said.

"The saddest aspect of all of this is that most of the families and students out there are totally unaware that all of this is awaiting them just around the corner," he said.

Delay Possible

Mr. Peltason added that "unless these recisions are promptly rejected by Congress, they will further delay the spring timetable for awards for the 1982-83 academic year, making it more difficult for students to make their educational plans."

Several speakers at the press conference also said they were concerned that the proposed cuts would fall most heavily on students who could least afford the loss of aid--those in traditionally black universities and those attending schools in economically depressed states.

Prezell R. Robinson, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, said in a prepared statement that he hoped President Reagan would fulfill the commitment he expressed in the State of the Union message to "protect the truly needy."

Decreases in federal student-aid programs, "on which the black colleges rely heavily, would pose a serious threat to the continued education of large numbers of students attending either public or private institutions" and "would mean the end of a dream for many black Americans to enter the mainstream of our society and become productive citizens," Mr. Robinson said.

In a prepared statement delivered at the conference, Robert L. Clodius, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, said that "for the sake of students, parents, institutions, and the future national good, the battle to preserve reasonable levels of funding for student aid programs is just."

"Many assume that state governments will replace funding reduced by the federal government," Mr. Clodius said.

"The fact is that, because their own budgets are in serious difficulties now, many state governments have increased their support of higher education by minimal amounts over the last two years."

Dale Parnell, president of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, said the Reagan Administration's budget proposal "scores an 'F' in funding higher-education programs--especially student-assistance and vocational-education training programs."

"It will close the door on educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of needy students attending America's 1,234 community, technical, and junior colleges," Mr. Parnell said. "It is a sad commentary when this Administration--that wants to invest so much money in machinery and weapons systems--is willing to allocate so little for the development of human beings."

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