Agreement Reached on College Student-Aid Programs

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House and Senate conferees have reached an agreement on a five-year reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would allow for spending at slightly above the current level.

After three months of negotiations, the conference committee settled on $10.2-billion spending ceiling for post-secondary-education programs for fiscal 1987. That limit is higher than the one contained in the Senate version of the bill, but lower than the $1.6-billion ceiling in the bill passed by the House last December.

This year, the Congress appropriated about $8.6 billion for student aid, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the authorized spending covered by the act.

  • Require, for the first time, that states seeking federal teacher-training money establish task forces to assess their teaching needs and estimate the extent of current or projected teacher shortages.
  • Retain several programs aimed at strengthening the teaching force that were included in the House bill.
  • Tighten eligibility rules for student aid, but raise award amounts for those who qualify.
  • And, in a last-minute addition that reflects the current anti-drug abuse sentiment on Capitol Hill, prohibit colleges that do not have drug prevention programs from participating in federal student-aid programs.

The agreement won praise from higher-education lobbyists, who noted that the Congress was under tight budget constraints this year.

"This is the best that could probably be done under the circumstances," said Charles B. Saunders Jr., vice president for governmental relations for the American Council on Education.

But Reagan Administration officials, who had sought cuts in student aid, gave the bill mixed reviews.

Bruce M. Carnes, the Education Department's deputy under secretary for budget, planning, and evaluation, called the bill too expensive, but said it was preferable to the House version.

The measure, which still must go before the full House and Senate for approval, perhaps as early as this week, authorizes spending but does not actually provide any funds.

Different versions of an education-spending bill have passed the two chambers, although the House has yet to vote on appropriations for post-secondary programs. Final totals for student aid are expected to be worked out when a conference committee is convened, probably this week.

President Reagan has not indicated whether he will sign S 1965 if it reaches his desk. However, Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on education, noted the measure fell within budget limits and predicted it would win the President's approval.

Conference Agreement

To reach the agreement, House and Senate negotiators had to iron out more than 500 differences between the two versions of the bill.

In addition, they were required by the Congressional budget resolution to cut spending on the Guaranteed Student Loan program by almost $400 million over three years.

1b find reductions in the G.S.L. program, conferees agreed to cut the subsidy paid to banks that provide the loans and to increase the interest rate for new borrowers from 8 percent to 10 percent in the fifth year of repayment.

Several new proposals contained in the Senate bill also won approval. For example, the conferees agreed to allow students with 5,000 or more in National Direct Student Loans, Health Professions Student Loans, and supplemental loans to consolidate them into a single loan.

In addition, the measure would create a $5-million pilot loan program in which the repayment rate would be based on a student's subsequent income. Secretary of Education William J . Bennett has long supported such an income-contingent loan program.

The conferees also adopted a House provision to extend aid to students attending college less than half time, but agreed that it would apply only to the poorest students and would not take effect until fiscal 1988.

Eligibility Tightened

As both chambers had proposed, S 1965 would require all financial-aid applicants-not just those from higher income brackets-to undergo a needs analysis in order to qualify for aid and would restrict the ability of students to claim financial independence from their parents.

The conferees adopted Senate provisions that would, for the first time, limit Pell Grants to students from families with incomes below $30,000, and require students to maintain a C average to remain eligible for federal aid.

For those who qualify for aid, the bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant awards from $2,100 to $2,300 in fiscal 1987 and to $3,100 in fiscal 1991, and would raise the amount students could borrow under the O.S.L. program.

Teacher Training

The conference panel also preserved several provisions from the House bill aimed at improving teacher training and precollegiate education. They include:

  • Creation of a $3.5-million pilot program to help train professionals from other fields for teaching careers.
  • Establishment of a $15-million program to create resource centers for teachers.

  • Authorization for the Education Department to provide a total of $1 million in technical-assistance grants to states for setting up the teacher needs panels mandated in the bill.
  • Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins scholarship program for prospective teachers and of the "talented teacher" fellowship program.
  • Authorization of $15 million in funding for school-university partnerships aimed at providing counseling and tutoring to discourage high-school students from dropping out.

Vol. 06, Issue 03, Page 14

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