Education

Senate Panel Passes $9.7-Billion College-Aid Bill

By Robert Rothman — August 06, 2019 3 min read

WASHINGTON—Rejecting President Reagan’s proposals to make deep cuts in federal student-aid programs, the Republican-controlled Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has unanimously approved a five-year reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that provides for spending above current levels.

The Senate measure would tighten eligibility for aid&mdashincluding setting a “C-average” standard—but would raise the amount of aid available for those who do qualify.

The reauthorization bill, S 1965, which the committee passed last month now goes to the full Senate for consideration. It authorizes $9.7 billion in student aid for fiscal 1987, about $1 billion more than the amount appropriated for the programs in fiscal 1986. But the bill authorizes about $1 billion less than the version passed by the House in December.

The bill would, for the first time, limit Pell Grants to students from families with incomes below $30,000.

In addition, it would require students to maintain a C average to continue to qualify for federal assistance; however, students with lower grade-point averages could continue to receive aid if their record is “consistent with requirements for graduation.” Like the House version, it would require students to undergo a needs test for aid.

Senator Robert T. Stafford of Vermont, chairman of the education subcommittee, argued that the committee’s bill should target spending on aid to needy students, and he urged his colleagues to resist efforts to create new programs. The House measure would create programs providing aid for graduate students and teacher training, among other new initiatives.

Heeding Senator Stafford, the panel rejected an amendment that would have allowed a student to receive a Pell Grant during graduate school, if the student did not exhaust five years of eligibility as an undergraduate.

However, the committee did adopt an amendment, offered by Senator Stafford, permitting students who owe more than $5,000 to consolidate their loans into a single loan.

President’s Budget

In his fiscal 1987 budget, President Reagan proposed a $2-billion reduction in student aid, primarily by cutting Pell Grants, work-study aid, and Supplemental Opportunity Grants, and by reducing the subsidy for Guaranteed Student Loans. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1986.)

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett submitted the President’s legislative package, which reflected the budget proposals, to the Congress the day before the Senate panel acted, but few proposals were included in its bill. Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said they were “too Draconian.”

The Administration objects to the Senate bill’s price tag, according to Bruce M. Carnes, deputy undersecretary of education for planning, budget, and evaluation.

''The country cannot afford a higher-education bill that’s this costly,” he said. “We shouldn’t have a bill like that.”

The Administration also objects to the increases in Pell Grant awards, Mr. Carnes added. The bill would increase maximum grants from $2,100 per year to $2,400 in fiscal 1987, rising to $3,200 in fiscal 1991. The House bill would also raise Pell Grant awards, though not as much.

But Mr. Carnes said he supports proposals in the Senate measure that would increase risk for banks issuing guaranteed loans, and extend a needs analysis to families from all income levels.

College lobbyists said after the committee’s action that they support the Senate bill. “It’s the best they could do at this time,” said Charles B. Saunders, vice president for governmental relations of the American Council on Education.

Mr. Saunders noted that while his organization would have preferred higher spending levels, pressures to reduce the federal budget deficit meant there was “no likelihood of pushing major expansions.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Saunders said he objected to the income cap included in the measure. He also said his organization opposes an amendment adopted by the committee, similar to a provision included in the House bill, that would require institutions to report foreign gifts.

A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 1986 edition of Education Week

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