E.D. Officials, Citing Abuses, Seek End To Financial Aid for School Dropouts
Washington--Education Department officials told a Congressional subcommittee last week that students without high-school certificates or diplomas would be ineligible for federal aid under the department's 1986 budget proposal.
The department's plan to eliminate federal aid for dropouts going on to higher education--mainly proprietary schools--was submitted to the Congress last week as part of a draft legislative package to implement the Administration's 1986 postsecondary-education budget.
"Attainment of a diploma is not an unreasonable demand," Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said. "We need to set some standards."
In its annual review of the department's budget, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education was also told that the department does not plan to offer any major federal initiative to help alleviate the high dropout rate, which hovers at about 30 percent nationally and over 50 percent among some inner-city minority groups.
By eliminating aid to students lacking high-school diplomas, the department would save only in the areas of Pell Grants and Guaranteed Student Loans, because other aid would be redistributed in the3budget, a department official said.
The cut would save $162 million in Pell Grants in fiscal 1986, and affect about 119,000 students, according to an official in the department's budget office.
About $1 million would be saved in the Guaranteed Student Loan program in 1986-87, according to the department's budget office, but the savings would increase to $20 million in 1990, because of the interest payments that would be eliminated, the official said. About 16,000 gsl recipients would be affected in 1986-87, and about 43,000 in 1987-88.
The majority of the students who receive such aid attend proprietary schools, according to William Dingeldein, deputy director in the department's budget office.
The decision to eliminate the federal aid was made primarily on the basis of a 1984 study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the Congress, according to Mr. Dingeldein. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1984.)
The study found that students admitted on "the ability to demonstrate benefit," or those without high-school diplomas or equivalency certificates, tend to drop out at a much higher rate than those with diplomas.
The gao report said 28 percent of the students who attend proprietary schools are admitted without high-school diplomas; it noted that 61 percent of the non-high-school graduates who were admitted to the programs dropped out, compared with 47 percent of the high-school graduates.
The gao found that such schools were often lax in developing and/or administering tests to determine a student's ability to benefit.
"The net result was that students who had little likelihood of benefitting from the program were admitted," it stated.
No New Programs
In response to another question about dropouts, Mr. Bennett said there is little the department can do to battle the myriad social and economic factors that he said cause the high dropout rate.
"I don't know what the Department of Education can do about those," Mr. Bennett said. "The Chapter 2 program explains our commitment to the dropout problem."
"There will not be a major new program for dropouts," said Gary L. Bauer, the undersecretary-designate. "Parental involvement [and] increased standards will improve the problem. It's not clear that major federal expenditures would help. The dropout problem reflects a lot of trends in society."
Mr. Bauer said recent research indicates that higher standards in high schools do not increase the dropout rate, but actually lower it.
At the same hearing, in response to a question about schools' use of Chapter 2 funds to purchase computers, Sally H. Christensen, director of budget services for the department, said a recent study has shown a "major shift" away from such purchases and toward using the money for other needs, such as curriculum development and added training for teachers.
Shift Away From Hardware
But Regina M.J. Kyle, vice-president of E.H. White and Company, the consulting and research firm that conducted the study referred to by Ms. Christensen, said a draft of the report simply shows a shift from purchases of hardware to software and teacher training for computers.
"I would not characterize it as a drastic decline," Ms. Kyle said. "There is still a high rate of expenditure that one might call computer-related." The report, which consists of case studies of nine states, will be released next fall.