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Bell Defends College-Aid Reductions

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Washington--U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week angrily challenged critics of the Reagan Administration's plans to cut back federal spending for student financial aid next year "to come up with a plan of their own if they don't like our proposals."

"It disturbs me greatly that there is a perception that the Department of Education and the Reagan Administration are somehow going to deprive hundreds of thousands of America's college students of a higher education; that we are threatening to close the doors of our universities and colleges," Mr. Bell said here at a press conference. "This is simply not true."

Mr. Bell's comments marked the latest salvo in a war of words between the Administration and higher-education officials over President Reagan's proposal to cut student financial-assistance programs by 46 percent next year from their current levels of funding and to prevent upper-income and graduate and professional students from recieving Guaranteed Student Loans (GSL).

President Reagan personally defended his proposed financial-aid cuts during a nationally broadcast radio address delivered from the island of Barbados during the Easter weekend. (See Education Week, April 21, 1982.)

The President claimed in his speech that the American public had been seriously misled by college and university officials, who have been widely quoted in the press as saying the Administration's proposed cutbacks could force upward of one million students to drop out of school or to alter their education plans.

Higher-education officials quickly responded, however, that the President himself was guilty of misinforming the public and of seriously understating the effects of the proposed cuts.

During last week's press conference, Mr. Bell blamed the media for being "a little bit slanted" in their reporting of the financial-aid issue.

"We're having a hard time getting our point of view to appear [in the media] as prominently as the opposition," the secretary said. "I don't think that the positive side of our story is being heard."

Mr. Bell pointed out that the Administration plans to spend $4.3 billion in fiscal 1983 to assist students attending colleges and that it is seeking a supplemental fiscal 1982 appropriation of $978 million for the GSL program.

(The full House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on a $1.3-billion supplemental appropriation for the GSL program--approximately $300 million more than requested by the Administration--late last week.)

Mr. Bell also criticized the media for failing to report that graduate students, who would no longer qualify for GSL's under the Administration's proposal, would be allowed to apply for higher-interest loans under a recently created program.

"We would like to counter the allegation that's being made that these are 'draconian' cuts," Mr. Bell said. "Not massive, but reasonable cuts, are coming down the road. The aid, however, will not be as posh as it was before."

Primary Responsibility

Mr. Bell restated the Administration's belief that the primary responsibility for financing students' college careers belongs first to "the students, the parents, the private sectors through loans and grants, and then to the federal government."

"If the purpose of federal financial assistance is to supplement, and not to supplant, funds from those that have primary responsibility, then we have to be careful that the federal megabucks don't rush in, that we don't have so generous an assistance package that we create a disincentive" for students to assume responsibility for the financing of their own educations, he said. "We have been too generous in the student-aid program in the past."

In a related development, the Education Department (ed) last week published the schedules that it hopes to use this year to determine how much a student's family must contribute toward the cost of education before the student can qualify for a GSL next fall. (See accompanying tables on this page.)

Students were required to undergo a needs analysis in order to qualify for the federally subsidized loans for the first time this academic year under a law that was passed by Congress last summer. Before then, all students were eligible for the loans regardless of their family's income.

The proposed ed rules would allow students from families earning up to $75,000 annually to qualify for the loans, but they would be required to undergo a more stringent needs test that takes into account family assets.

Under current law, families earning less than $100,124 were eligible to qualify for the loans under the less stringent analysis.

Students from families earning less than $30,000 annually would automatically qualify for the loans under the proposed rules.

The schedules published in the May 3 edition of the Federal Register will apply to loans made during periods of instruction between July 1, 1982, and June 30, 1983, unless Congress acts to reject the schedules within 30 days of their publication.

Representative Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the House subcommittee on postsecondary education, said late last month that his panel and its Senate counterpart "were committed to a rapid review of the needs test in order to facilitate the GSL lending process.''

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