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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Call For More Need-Based Financial Aid

Academics argue for more need-based financial aid in order to make college accessible to all. The College Board recently finished a dialogue with financial aid recipients. Their recommendation: increase the size of federal Pell Grants.

The Pell Grant currently has a cap of $5,600 per year, which covers an average of 42% of the costs of college. The cap has not increased at the same rate as tuition costs; at one time the cap accounted for 87% of the costs of college. The Pell Grant assists an estimated 39% of undergraduates.

The College Board’s National Dialogue on Student Financial Aid Blue Ribbon Panel, responsible for studying the issue of tuition, saw a shift from loans to grants as an equitable solution to the problem that many students are struggling with across the country. As tuition becomes more expensive, students on the lower end of the economic spectrum are becoming more dependent on financial aid.

The panel results suggest the growing disparity between available grant money and the cost of tuition is making these students more dependent on loans, and is limiting their choice of colleges.

The Blue Ribbon Panel, a blend of college professors, presidents, financial aid experts, and foundation members, spent last year touring cities and towns and talking with regular people currently involved with the financial aid system. The people they talked with pointed out the inadequacies of the current system, from the size of grants, to the byzantine amount of paperwork that goes with it.

The panel, in response to the needs of future students, has recommended 10 changes in the financial aid system:

1. Substantially increase Pell Grant funding and guarantee adequate grant aid tocover average fixed charges (tuition, fees, room and board) incurred by students at four-year public colleges and universities nationwide;

2. Improve the terms available to students under the federally funded and guaranteed loan programs; design effective insurance policies for borrowers whose post-college income is inadequate for repayment; provide loan forgiveness for students who enter and remain in certain key occupations and those who serve in high-need areas;

3. Assure that growth in “merit” programs is not at the expense of need-based funding, and that merit programs, while meeting other state needs, are still focused on promoting college access for needy students;

4. Reaffirm commitment to need-based student aid and strive to enroll larger numbers of students from low-income and under-represented backgrounds;

5. Improve the design of and increase the funding for federal matching programs to induce states, institutions, and private entities to provide more need-based subsidies to students; increase the level of support to institutions that serve large percentages of high-need students;

6. Simplify the federal financial aid application process for students and reduce the regulatory/paperwork burdens imposed on institutions and financial aid officers; implement mechanisms for early notification of eligibility for financial aid;

7. Link increases in tuition to increases in need-based aid, to insulate financially needy students from effects of economic downturns;

8. Increase support for programs that provide college success skills and early information about college preparation, admissions, costs, and student financial aid, as well as those that connect and transition low-income and first-generation students to college and promote retention and graduation;

9. Support federal student support services and provide incentives for institutions, states and the private sector to fund student support and persistence services;

10. Support and expand the role of clearinghouses that monitor and report on the success of students.