State and Regional Financial Aid Associations Advocate Lawmakers on Key Student Aid Issues
More than 30 financial aid administrators (FAAs) visited the offices of 27 members of Congress serving on the Senate and House education committees earlier this month to advocate on a number of federal student aid issues.
FAAs from the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (EASFAA), the Delaware, District of Columbia and Maryland Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (DE-DC-MD ASFAA) and the Southern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SASFAA), visited the offices of 12 lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and 15 lawmakers on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
During their visits, the administrators discussed a number of topics.
The administrators thanked lawmakers on behalf of their students for maintaining the maximum annual Pell Grant award of $5,550. They also urged lawmakers to reconsider grandfathering the new 12-semester limit on Pell Grant eligibility to ensure all students in college now would receive the same funding to complete their degrees. They explained the difficulties these students would face without a grandfather provision, noting that current students who are already beyond the 12-semester limit will no longer be eligible and this could impact degree completion.
The FAAs discussed with policymakers the need to tighten up needs analysis to ensure that already-limited student aid funding goes to students who legitimately have need. They proposed this as an alternative to flat cuts to student aid program funding.
Loan Interest Rates
FAAs highlighted that federal student loans were created as a middle-income vehicle to pay for college, but are now highly utilized by low-income students. They urged lawmakers to consider lowering interest rates to better reflect the current economic climate, and to prevent the 3.4 percent interest rate on undergraduate subsidized loans from doubling to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2012. The FAAs explained that high interest rates on Federal Direct Loans would encourage students, including low-income students, to seek out lower-interest private loans—despite the fact that these consumer loans do not have the same borrower-friendly terms and conditions as federal loans.
While discussing the recent (fiscal year 2012) temporary elimination of the undergraduate interest subsidy during the post-graduation six-month grace period, FAAs argued that it was unreasonable to assume that today's college graduates will have jobs immediately after graduation. A loan subsidy provided during the six-month grace period gives students time to seek meaningful employment and pay off their loans sooner.
Obama's College Affordability Initiative
Many congressional staffers asked what financial aid administrators thought of the President's recently announced college affordability initiative, specifically the part that would reward (and possibly penalize) institutions based on their ability to keep costs low. The administrators noted that they were unsure how it would be implemented, based on the lack of detail released to-date, and expressed concern about the possibility that this initiative could restrict access to higher education or reduce quality.
Regarding the Obama administration’s proposal to create a College Scorecard, FAAs told policymakers that much of the information required by a College Scorecard is already available, and the validity of this information is problematic. For example, the scorecard as proposed could be very misleading when applied to community colleges, who serve a very different constituency than four-year public or private schools. Community colleges often have open enrollment policies with missions to ensure access to anyone who wants to pursue a postsecondary degree. Consequently, a larger percentage of first-year community college students (who have a high school diploma) require remedial coursework. Postsecondary institutions vary in their priorities, missions and student populations, which makes it difficult for students to use a single scorecard to accurately evaluate and compare very different types of institutions.
"We found the meetings to be substantive," said EASFAA Federal Relations Committee Co-Chair Dawn Mosisa. "For us, it truly was an honor to serve our association in this capacity."
Financial aid administrators—the professionals who work with students and families every single day—offer valuable insights on student aid and higher education policy. As such, policymakers at all levels greatly benefit from hearing your perspective. To get started advocating on the issues that are important to your institution and the students you serve, check out NASFAA.org’s Take Action web center.