The presumed September reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act will likely have implications for CSUN students who receive Pell Grants or Perkins loans, and especially those who take summer classes.
Diane Ryan, director of FinancialAid and Scholarships, said that although the act technically expired approximately one year ago, its authority was extended and is now awaiting a more complete debate on what should and should not be changed prior to reauthorization.
“The (1965) Higher Education Act is the landmark legislation that created the framework for most of the student aid programs that are available today,” Ryan said. The act is reauthorized approximately every five years.
Ryan said numerous things are discussed during the reauthorization process, including provisions in the student loan program for both the direct loan and the federally guaranteed Stafford Loan program.
The amount of money students can borrow on an annual basis, as well as the amount students can receive from Pell Grants, will also be discussed, along with how a family’s financial strength is evaluated and how that determines financial aid eligibility.
Ryan said it is not clear at this point how CSUN’s switch to Year Round Operations will affect financial aid awards for students, and also that there are proposals being considered that would give additional Pell Grant money to summer students.
According to Kevin O’ Leary, senior associate director of Financial Aid at CSUN, it has been proposed for the next reauthorization that Pell Grants provide funding for a full year, instead of just funding them for two semesters.
O’Leary said additional Pell Grant funding would allow a student to attend the CSUN in the summer, fall, and spring semesters with federal financial support.
“There is strong support at this point for making the Pell Grant available on a year round basis,” Ryan said, adding that it is a good sign that there is a lot of recognition that students need to attend the university year round in order to get their degrees faster.
According to Ryan, Summer 2005 is going to be considered the first term of the academic year instead of the last from a financial aid perspective.
“With the change to (Year Round Operations), we really have to focus more intently on treating summer like a real term,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the system as it is set up now only allows students who receive financial aid in the summer to get what they did not use of the fall and spring semester awards.
“I certainly think YRO is a good thing because it’s going to assist students in getting through (school) quicker,” Ryan said. “That’s important, because the longer they stay, the more money they borrow, and debt is a big concern of ours.”
Ryan also said if things go well, additional Pell Grant funding and State University Grants will be available to help cover the costs of summer term.
According to Ryan, a proposal has been made as part of the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization process to end the Perkins Loan program. CSUN students collectively receive between $500,000 and $750,000 annually in Perkins loans.
Additionally, the Bush administration, as parts of its most recent budget, has planned for the gradual elimination of funding for the Perkins loan.
According to O’Leary, borrowing limits for student aid have not increased for approximately 15 years. This is something likely to be addressed in the reauthorization.
“We’re also hoping that in the new Higher Education Act, there might be increased borrowing limits for students’ loans,” O’Leary said.
“We want those numbers to go up so students can get more money,” O’Leary said.
Ryan said she thinks one of the main reasons for the reauthorization’s timing is because the 40th anniversary of the act’s initial authorization is in October.
“The reauthorization process can often be a very contentious process because of all the political influence,” Ryan said. She also said this legislative process authorizes the programs, and a separate process provides appropriations for those programs.
“They may authorize a lot of programs, but usually the level of funding is reduced due to budgetary considerations.” Ryan said.