Federal aid legislation up for talks

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The federal Higher Education Act will go through a reauthorization process during the next several months, and changes could be made that might affect the type and amount of federal financial aid CSUN students receive.

The HEA, officially introduced in 1965, provides lower-income students access to federal funding for higher education. The act’s most recent adjustment was in October 2002.

However, due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and upcoming hearings on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, the current HEA may be extended longer than was expected. The upcoming meeting of Congress will deal with several issues that could affect students’ financial aid for the next school year.

More than 60 percent of CSUN’s student population is receiving financial aid, said Diane Ryan, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships.

For the 2005-06 academic year, the federal government allotted more than $45 million to about 11,000 CSUN students, which will increase during the year, producing an average aid amount of $4,090 per student, according to Financial Aid.

An issue that could give students the help they need to graduate on time will be a discussion about year-round Pell Grant usage.

As CSUN completes its transition to Year-Round Operations next summer, more students will be encouraged to take classes during summer term through normal university registration and not through the Tseng College of Extended Learning.

The federal Pell Grant, which is now offered for a period of nine months, could be changed to allow for periods of 12 months of use.

“This has been under discussion for a long time,” Ryan said. “We may run into a few stumbling blocks – but opening summer school outside of the College of Extended Learning and being able to offer the Pell Grant will help the students (excel).”

During discussions in Congress, there will not be any changes in requirements to receive federal financial aid, Ryan said. Lawmakers will not reverse any decision on age or income, whether it is the student or the parents, she added.

Another important issue that affects many students is the need for more money offered through the Pell Grant.

“While tuition increases, grant money remains unchanged,” said Colleen MacDonald, vice president of California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “(CAFSAA) made a proposal to raise the Pell Grant to $5,000 instead of the current $4,050.”

MacDonald said the House of Representatives has also expressed interest in increasing the Pell Grant offered for the academic school year by $50, which totals to an extra five dollars a month. President George W. Bush also proposed a plan to increase the Pell grant up to $100 per year for up to five years, she said.

MacDonald said the federal budget deficit, estimated at roughly $400 billion, could affect the amount of funding allocated to HEA aid.

“Since the federal government has such a large deficit, there is a reconciliation process that includes instructions from the budget resolution about how government programs will have to cut on spending,” MacDonald said. “The HEA program will be affected. Therefore, promoting funding will go directly against the reconciliation.”

“Education is the key to a successful society,” MacDonald said. “(CAFSAA) promotes education for California students to (get) additional funding.

She said moving forward with the reauthorization of the HEA is important for the success of today’s college students.

Since students from other schools graduate within four years, Ryan said that’s what financial aid advisers at college campuses are anxious about. Measures could be taken to hold federally funded schools like CSUN accountable for educational outcomes.

For CSUN, many students have other responsibilities that do not allow them to speed through school, such as a job or a family, producing four, five and six-year graduation rates that do not compare to University of California campuses, for instance.

“(The federal government) cannot measure the intangible benefits of a student that may take longer to get through than the average student,” Ryan said. “The federal government doesn’t take into account those other issues.”

Ryan said that if there are measures applied to educational outcomes in regards to the amount of time it takes a student to graduate, an institution could be penalized if it does not meet those outcomes in the form of reductions in grants or other allocations.

Michael Sullivan can be reached at michael.sullivan.843@csun.edu.