Stafford, Student-Loan Advocate, Dies at 93

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Former Sen. Robert T. Stafford, R-Vt., who was such a champion of the federal student-loan program that his colleagues eventually named it in his honor, died Dec. 23 at the age of 93.

Mr. Stafford, who chaired the Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee from 1981 to 1987, was known as a moderate lawmaker and a strong advocate for education and the environment. He had a close working relationship with then-Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., the namesake of the primary federal student-grant program in higher education.

During the 1980s, Mr. Stafford criticized President Reagan’s proposal to eliminate the federal Department of Education and the president’s efforts to cut low-interest loans for college students. The senator’s work in support of the loan program inspired his fellow lawmakers to rechristen it the Stafford Federal Student Loan Program in 1988, the year before Mr. Stafford retired from the Senate.

“He believed in the notion of low-interest loans” for education, and knew that if they were offered to “young people with no credit and no visible means of support, it would have to be through a special program,” said Ellin Nolan, who worked as a senior aide to Sen. Stafford and is now the president of Washington Partners, a consulting firm in the nation’s capital.

In the Senate, Ms. Nolan said, Mr. Stafford understood that legislation was about compromise. “If there were just winners and losers, then you hadn’t solved a problem,” she said. “You had to come together to find a middle ground. He believed that was always possible.”

Mr. Stafford served as Vermont’s attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960. Appointed to fill a Senate vacancy in 1971, he was elected in his own right in 1972 and was re-elected in 1976 and 1982.

PHOTO: A federal student-loan program was named for Sen. Robert T. Stafford.
—File photo by Toby Talbot/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 18, Page 21

Published in Print: January 10, 2007, as Stafford, Student-Loan Advocate, Dies at 93
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