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In an effort to encourage more minority students to pursue postsecondary education, the College Board has launched a pilot program to help 8th to 11th graders begin academic and financial planning for college.

The program, which began this spring in Fort Worth and Washington, will enable some 150 students in each city to become familiar with college-admission tests, curricular requirements for admission, and financial aid.

Known as College Knowledge, the pilot program will continue this summer in school counseling centers in both cities. It is being financed by a $50,000 grant from the Aetna Life and Casualty Foundation.

The College Board plans to meet next fall with school and college officials to discuss expanding the two programs and creating similar efforts in other cities, according to Lawrence E. Gladieux, executive director of the board's Washington office.

"A lot more needs to be done,'' he said. "There need to be hundreds of programs like this.''

In a related effort, the College Board has also launched a multi-media promotional campaign urging all students, beginning in the 8th grade, to think about and plan for college.

Through a series of six public-service announcements sent to 1,000 youth-oriented radio stations, and posters and print materials sent to every junior- and senior-high-school principal, the campaign is aimed at encouraging all students to begin to "lay the foundations for college,'' according to Donald M. Stewart, the board's president.

The campaign follows a similar effort conducted last fall, which urged students: "You've Got What it Takes. Take it to College.''

The new materials help build favorable associations with college, he said, and outline steps students can take to prepare for postsecondary education. "We believe that with early planning, good preparation, and sufficient encouragement, many more students can achieve success in college,'' Mr. Stewart said.

A survey of New England colleges has confirmed the findings of an earlier study that showed that vacancies exist on many campuses for the fall semester.

A national survey, conducted last month by the National Association of College Admission Counselors, found that more than 500 institutions have openings for freshmen and transfer students.

The new survey, by the New England Board of Higher Education, found that 180 colleges--80 percent of the institutions in that region--have openings for 19,000 students, and that almost all of those with openings have financial aid and housing available.

However, the study points out, all six public land-grant institutions in the region have ceased accepting applications for next fall, and the number of openings is down 30 percent from last year.

A number of news reports this spring have highlighted the fact that, because of a deluge of applications at selective institutions, many well-qualified seniors have been turned down by every college they applied to.

Forty-four liberal-arts and historically black colleges have received a total of $30.4 million in grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to improve education in biological sciences.

The awards, considered the largest amount ever given in the biomedical sciences by a private organization, are the first of a proposed 10-year grant program by the Maryland-based medical-research institute, which was founded in 1953 by the late industrialist.

In addition to programs to improve undergraduate biology instruction, the grants are also expected to support science-education opportunities for high-school students and teachers, as well as efforts to recruit minority students and women into collegiate science programs.

"In order to maintain even the present level of scientists, the 'attraction' rate of students will have to be increased dramatically over the next 20 years,'' said Joseph G. Perpich, the institute's vice president for grants and special programs. "Since there are fewer college-age students now, greater attention will have to be paid in junior and senior high school to attracting students into biology and medicine.''

Guaranteed student loans are relatively unprofitable for bankers, and proposals by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett would make them even less profitable and drive many lenders out of the program, a survey of lenders has found.

The survey of 126 lending institutions found that the student loans--now called Stafford loans--provide a return on assets, depending on the institution, of between 0.36 percent and 0.76 percent. Bank stockholders and managers generally expect a return of at least 0.60 percent on assets, according to the Consumer Bankers Association, which conducted the survey.

Because of these relatively low earnings, said Joe Belew, the association's president, "it is not surprising that many lenders say they would sharply reduce their funding for student loans if certain policy proposals were adopted which would erode the profitability of this program.''

Nearly 45 percent of lenders said they would drop the program, and another 30 percent said they would curtail lending, if the Congress accepts Secretary Bennett's proposal to curb the default rate by reducing the federal guarantee of the loans from 100 percent of principal to 90 percent. --RR

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