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Administration Agrees to Concessions in College-Aid Plan

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Washington

The Clinton administration has agreed to modify its Hope Scholarship proposal in an effort to overcome criticism of the plan.

The administration will abandon its proposed requirement that college students maintain a B-minus average to qualify for a second year of the aid, which would take the form of federal income-tax breaks for college costs, Rick Miller, a Department of Education spokesman, said last week.

In another concession, the administration has agreed to allow Pell Grant recipients to take advantage of the entire tax break.

Although a specific academic average would not be required, students would still have to show "satisfactory progress," a requirement for all students receiving federal college aid, Mr. Miller said.

Republican lawmakers and higher education officials had argued that the B-minus requirement would lead to grade inflation. ("Skeptics Greet Clinton Plan's First Appearance in Congress," March 12, 1997.)

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, called the concession a welcome move in the right direction. "It would be entirely too tempting for colleges and universities to lower grading standards just to get more of the money being offered by the federal government through tax breaks," he said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee, which will authorize any legislation related to education tax cuts, said the announced changes would likely make the proposal more palatable to GOP members. Republicans, though, have proposed their own financial-aid plans and may balk at the administration's revised proposals. The House and Senate are set to take up the tax-credit bills this week.

Pell Grant Provision

Under a change announced by President Clinton in his May 31 radio address, low-income students would be allowed to receive the full $1,500 Hope Scholarship tax credit for education costs beyond those covered by the Pell Grant. Under his previous proposal, the amount of Pell Grant money a student received would have been subtracted from tax deductions or credits received under the Hope program.

"With this step, we'll make sure that our tax cut reaches all those who want to take responsibility for their own lives and go on to college," Mr. Clinton said.

The nonbinding budget resolution passed by Congress last month calls for increasing the maximum Pell Grant from $2,700 to $3,000. But some lawmakers and college officials had pushed for further breaks for low-income students.

The White House press secretary, Michael McCurry, said after Mr. Clinton's recent announcement that the changes would make it easier for colleges to administer the program.

Higher Education Reaction

Higher education groups applauded the modifications to Mr. Clinton's financial-aid proposals, which are a central part of his second-term agenda for education.

"We had sought the changes and are very encouraged," said David R. Merkowitz, the director of public affairs for the American Council on Education, a higher education umbrella group in Washington. "This becomes a very good package."

Setting a required grade point average might have opened the door to all sorts of problems, from grade inflation to having Internal Revenue Service officials rifling through student records, Mr. Merkowitz added.

In addition, the previous plan raised concerns for colleges and universities that do not award letter grades, he said.

Although the budget resolution endorses proposed tax breaks for college totaling about $35 billion over five years, Congress still must pass legislation authorizing and paying for the breaks. ("Clinton-Hill Accord Would Hike Ed. Funding," May 14, 1997.)

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Related Stories
Web Resources
  • Read "Opening Wide the Doors of College," Point 8 of President Clinton's Call to Action for American Education in the 21st Century.
  • Read more about the President's proposed Hope Scholarship program from the U.S. Department of Education Web site.
  • Visit FinAid, a financial aid information page sponsored by the National Association of School Financial Aid Administrators.
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