By Samuel Castor
Seventy billion dollars in student loans and Pell Grants will be redirected to lower-income students if a House bill passes this week.
“Millions of low- and middle-income students today face the possibility of being denied access to higher education,” said House Education and Work Committee Chairman John Boehner.
This limited access to federal funds is what proponents of the bill hope to resolve. The bill, which is known as the College Access and Opportunity Act and hit the floor last week, attempts to extend access of the Higher Education Act”s federal funds to more lower-level and mid-level income students.
BYU Financial Aid Compliance Officer Steven Olson agreed with Boehner that students may not be receiving funds, but disagreed as to why students receive funding from the $70 billion federal pool. In the last eight to 10 years, Congress has not appropriated sufficient funds, Olson said.
“There is nothing that requires Congress to appropriate the funds,” Olson said, explaining why students do not receive more aid from Pell Grants.
Olson explained that BYU Financial Aid processes more than 30,000 applications a year. Of those 30,000 students, current budgets only allow for a third of those to receive Pell Grants. The gap between those receiving funding and those needing funding depends on a need-based formula.
“It is important for us to take steps that are going to expand access, and that”s the purpose of this bill,” said Alexa Marrero, Boehner”s press representative.
Steve Fleming, BYU College Democrats advisor, said spreading the wealth is always a good thing.
“I”m glad that anyone would consider financial support for more of those who are in need, regardless of their political persuasion,” Fleming said. “Spreading the wealth is always a good thing.”
A news release issued by the proponents of the bill claim it will raise the amount of Pell Grant aid a student can receive. Other key points of the bill include attempts to simplify the financial aid process for needy students and families, as well as allow students to earn more money each year without the risk of loosing their financial aid eligibility.
Marrero said the chances of the bill passing this year are relatively high. Last year alone, Boehner and Rep. Howard McKeon passed four bills as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
“At the heart of it, fundamentally … the reason they introduced this bill is because they believe low and middle-income students and current and future students must be the No. 1 priority for these funds,” he said.
Olson said he disagrees the bill will pass this year.
“Everybody who knows anything about it says it won”t happen,” Olson said. He said representatives will be so busy with the upcoming elections and their own campaign efforts that the bill won”t pass.
“A lot of people will use it to further their re-election efforts, and then it won”t happen,” Olson said.
Olson said he does not question that certain senators and representatives would claim to have done a lot of work on the bill, but passed such claims as good political copy.
“If it passes in 2004 it would be a tremendous surprise to just about everybody,” Olson said.
Students looking to take advantage of this additional wealth can fill out a Free Application for Student Aid form, better known as a FAFSA form, available in the Financial Aid office or online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The free form gives a student access to qualifying for any number of financial aid possibilities from Pell Grants to student loans.