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Testing Agencies Misled Students Into Paying for Aid, Suit Claims

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Washington--A national student financial-aid lobbying group is filing suit in federal district court here against the Education Department (ed), the American College Testing Program (act), and the College Entrance Examination Board (ceeb).

The suit charges that the agencies intentionally duped senior-high-school and college students into paying for the processing of financial-aid applications, a task the plaintiffs claim the federal government must perform free of charge by law.

The National Coalition of Independent College and University Students (copus), an eight-year old lobbying group representing approximately one million students in 275 member schools, alleges in its suit that the Education Department illegally ordered act to remove a checkoff option from its financial-aid forms issued for the 1982-83 school year.

Provision Violated

By removing the checkoff option, which enabled students to have the processing fee paid by the federal government, ed, act, and ceeb violated a provision of the Higher Education Amendments of 1980, which stipulate that "[n]o student or parent of a student shall be charged a fee for processing the data elements" of federal aid forms, according to the suit.

As as result of the defendants' actions, copus claims, approximately 120,000 students paid $6 each for processing forms that the federal government would have processed free of charge, according to the student group's executive director, Miriam Rosenberg.

The suit asks that act return $720,000 to the high-school and college students. A separate suit involving the ceeb will be filed at a later date.

copus is directing the suit against ed and act at this time in order to get "immediate declaratory and injunctive relief" and to stop the 1983-84 forms from being sent out this week, according to Ms. Rosenberg.

Reimbursement Sought

"all we can do is get restitution," Ms. Rosenberg said. She said the group wants reimbursement for students who have already paid the act fees.

Spokesmen from both ed and act declined to comment on the suit.

Bob Seaver, ceeb vice-president for public affairs, said he considers the suit a matter to be dealt with by ed and copus. "We view ourselves as basically innocent parties to a dispute over an interpretation of the law by the Department of Education in which we were instructed to remove a checkoff option from our form and did so," he said. "We don't feel the dispute is about our actions, but about the Department of Education's interpretation of the law, in which they directed us not to include such an option."

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