Some Proposals to Remake Student Aid Would Harm College Access, Panel Warns

"A key Congressional advisory committee is raising serious doubts about recent proposals for remaking the federal student-aid system. In a report released late Sunday night, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance urges lawmakers to give 'special scrutiny' to five ideas that it says could 'worsen inequality in college completion,' including plans to tie student aid to completion rates and to replace Pell Grants with block grants to states," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. "'These proposals disregard rising college expenses facing low-income students and the skyrocketing loan burden,' according to the report, which highlights data on low-income black and Hispanic students. 'Policy makers should consider their likely negative impact on college enrollment and completion,' it says. The report doesn't specifically mention the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, which is in its second round of grant making, and the committee's executive director denied that the report was a direct response to the ideas in the project's 16 papers released to date. ... Still, the report does challenge recommendations made by several of the Gates project's grantees, which included think tanks, associations, and other groups. And it rejects the "austerity-inspired assumption" underlying some of the reports that any changes in the student-aid system must be budget-neutral, calling for increased spending on need-based aid. In particular, the report argues against linking some student aid to completion, an approach embraced, in various forms, by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the Education Trust, and others. Denying aid to students 'based on risk of noncompletion' would be counterproductive, the report suggests, harming the very students who would benefit the most from the money. ... Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the advisory panel's report raises 'valid concerns' about the effect that changes in the student-aid system could have on low-income and minority students, but he argued that such concerns shouldn't prevent an 'open discussion about how we improve student-aid programs to foster access and success.' 'When we're living in a world of limited dollars, we understand that anytime you make considerable changes, there's a danger of creating winners and losers,' he said. 'This has to be done thoughtfully, but there's no reason not to continue these conversations.'"

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