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Students Ask Steps To Boost Awareness of Financial Aid

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Washington--Lawmakers must take steps to ensure that elementary and secondary students receive information about federal financial aid available for postsecondary study, college students told members of the Congress last week.

In a spirited hearing on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, 10 representatives of the United States Students Association, many of them low-income or at-risk students, detailed how federal aid had helped them get into college and how it had helped them stay there.

The Congress is thought likely to substantially revamp and restructure student-aid programs when it reauthorizes the hea during this session. (See Education Week, Jan. 16, 1991.)

Several of the students who testified at last week's hearing--held jointly by the Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities and House Postsecondary Education subcommittees--also said that their high-school guidance counselors did not know the ins and outs of the federal-aid system because they were often overburdened with other work.

"There's no training system and no support system to make [counselors] aware of all the scholarships and financial aid that are available," said Tajel Shah, a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the vice president of the ussa.

Moreover, other panelists said, counselors often discourage low-income or average-achieving students from trying to get into a four-year college or university.

"Once you get tracked ... the counselors try to lead you onto a certain path," said Vaughn Thompson, a fifth-year senior at Eastern Michigan University who was admitted to the school under an outreach program for at-risk students.

Noting that his counselor had encouraged him to attend a community college, he said, "I didn't want to go that route."

Mr. Thompson also noted that he would have been dropped from the aid rolls and forced to leave school if a proposal by President Bush to eliminate the bottom 10 percent of a class from aid eligibility had been in effect during his first year.

Although he expects to graduate with better than a 3.0 grade-point average, he said he had earned only a 1.88 gpa in his first year.

Mr. Thompson's story was echoed by several other students, each of whom, after giving his or her presentation, was cheered and given a strong round of applause from the approximately 150 other students who packed the hearing room.

'Get Uppity'

In describing the strides of women and minorities in education since the 1960's, Representative William D. Ford, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee as well as of its postsecondary-education subcommittee, urged the students to press further for change.

"You've got to go back [to your campuses] and get pushy," he said. "You've got to get uppity. You've got to get irritating."

"I'm not advocating going back and burning campuses," he added, "but if it's necessary ..."

His voice was drowned out by applause.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Democrat from Connecticut who chaired the joint hearing, added: "I'm intrigued about what's happening at the high-school level in terms of the awareness, the support, and the knowledge" on the part of counselors.

"It seems to me the missing link is in that secondary-education level," he said.

Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, has introduced a bill calling for an Education Department campaign to publicize financial aid that would be similar to the Army's "Be All That You Can Be" promotion.

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