Lawmaker Seeks Tips To Demystify Financial-Aid Maze
A Republican congressman from California, concerned about the maze of federal financial-aid laws and regulations that bedevils parents, students, and college administrators, plans to hit the Web this week with a site soliciting advice on how to streamline the system.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with higher education, likely will receive an earful of recommendations.
Some representatives of higher education groups and postsecondary administrators say that the current setup for dispensing federal financial aid is too confusing and demanding, creating administrative headaches for colleges and inequities for students.
"It's been a two-decade-old problem," said Larry Zaglaniczny, the director for congressional relations for the Washington-based National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "If you look at the size of the Higher Education Act, first authorized in 1965, and now look at the Higher Education Act, it's massively bigger, and there are more regulations on the books."
The complexity of student-aid regulations baffles even experts, said Stanley O. Ikenberry, the president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group that represents higher education's interests in Washington. "When regulations become confusing, students and their parents are likely the first ones to suffer that confusion."
Rep. McKeon announced his plans to pursue a simplification of the college financial-aid system in a recent speech to the Washington Higher Education Secretariat Meeting, a forum for the heads of national higher education groups sponsored by the ACE. Mr. McKeon calls the project "Upping the Effectiveness of Our Federal Student Aid Programs," or Fed. Up for short.
"Our goal will be to streamline the current regulatory system to the extent possible, while maintaining or improving program integrity," he said, according to a speech transcript. "Federal education money does little good if it is spent on complying with federal regulation."
Many of the programs Mr. McKeon is targeting for change fall under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1998. He proposes that the system be improved both through changes in regulations by the Department of Education and through passage of a Higher Education Technical Amendments bill later this year.
Mr. McKeon plans to solicit recommendations for changes through an e- mail address—firstname.lastname@example.org— and an online form on a Web site scheduled to be created this week. The Web site's address had not been determined at press time.
Rep. McKeon chairs the 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige and the subcommittee's ranking Democratic member, Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, have pledged their support for the project, according to Dan Lara, a spokesman for Republicans on the House education committee.
"We have been engaged with the secretary, and he supports our efforts," Mr. Lara said. Efforts to confirm Mr. Paige's and Rep. Mink's positions through aides were unsuccessful last week.
Higher education representatives said they particularly object to the government's practice of making colleges' eligibility for federal student aid contingent on the collection of information they say is not directly related to education. For example, colleges must report campus-crime statistics and whether or not students have registered with the Selective Service System.
"The federal government has looked to the financial-aid programs as a way to enforce social policies, because financial aid is the primary hook they have into institutions of higher education," said Linda Michalowski, the director of strategic communications and federal relations for the chancellor's office of the California community college system.
She said students, as well as institutions, must meet criteria for eligibility that seem unnecessary.
Students who apply for federal aid are asked, for example, whether they've been convicted of drug offenses in the past or have been charged with a crime, while other students are not asked those questions, Ms. Michalowski said.
Claire M. Roemer, the director for financial aid for Tarrant County College, a two-year public institution in Texas, said she'd like to see the federal government drop a requirement that a Pell Grant cannot be used at more than one postsecondary institution within the same payment period, thus barring students reliant on federal aid from taking courses at two different schools.
Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 28