Henry Rudolph could have easily seen a college education as beyond his reach. One of eight children, he is the son of two high school dropouts whose income couldn't stretch to cover college tuition.
But the dream of higher education has become a reality for Rudolph and thousands of other disadvantaged students because of the federal student-aid programs."This (student-aid) program has allowed me to lift myself up by the bootstraps, so to speak. It has allowed me to reach beyond meager circumstances and to think larger thoughts. It has taught me that, in this great social experiment called America, one can still dare to dream. One can dare to rise above a disadvantaged condition and aspire to loftier heights," said the Weber State University student.
Rudolph was one of 14 Utah students, bankers, college financial-aid officers and higher education officials who testified during a congressional hearing Wednesday, urging the federal government to renew its commitment to the federally funded student-aid programs.
Every five years, Congress must reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. The law's most expensive portion, Title IV, funds the $18 billion student-aid programs.
Before reauthorization, Congress reviews the programs and makes changes. Since February, congressional hearings have been held in Washington, D.C., and across the nation on the Bush administration's proposed changes to Title IV (see accompanying box). Other groups involved in student-aid programs are also circulating proposals.
Testimony gathered at Wednesday's Salt Lake hearing, held at Salt Lake Community College, will be used to formulate legislation in the fall, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who conducted the hearing for the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
The law must be reauthorized by Oct. 1, 1992.
But while witnesses uniformly supported the student-aid programs, they also raised concerns about items in the administration's proposal or lobbied for specific changes. Among them:
- Simplification of the student-aid process and forms.
Wendy Marsell, Davis Applied Technology Center financial aid director, said students are intimidated by the time-consuming, complex process and forms. She said sometimes the "very students for which the funds are intended avoid seeking this assistance" because they are overwhelmed by the process.
- Restoration of the balance between loans and grants.
Regent Fred Stringham said in 1976, grants constituted 76 percent of the federal student aid while loans accounted for 21 percent. However, by 1988 those numbers reversed, with loans accounting for 67 percent of the federal student aid.
"This changing balance is directly associated with the increases experienced in student loan defaults," Stringham said.
However, Laurie Chivers, Sen. Hatch's aide on education, said Congress has a limited amount of money for student aid, and grants are more expensive. More grants would mean fewer students getting financial assistance, she said.
- Acceptance of a higher default record with student loans. Nationally, students loans have about a 10 percent default rate.
John L. Richards, president of Olympus Bank, a lender in the student-loan programs, said that no one disputes the rate is high compared to commercial loans.
However, he said, the student loan programs are in a way "social programs" serving financially needy students.
He said lenders know how to drop default rates. They could require collateral and a good credit record. But these steps would eliminate the most students, the banker said.
- Reduction of student-aid regulations for the schools.
Stephen R. Olsen, a Brigham Young University administrator, said schools with a good compliance record for laws and regulations "should not be burdened by unnecessary and oppressive regulations."
Proposed changes in grants and loans
- Target grants to the lowest-income students. This would increase Pell Grants from $2,400 to $3,700.
- Provide larger loans for all students. The proposal would increase loan limits on the guaranteed Stafford Loan - awarded on the basis of need - by one-third. Limits on Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS), available to independent students, would go from $4,000 to $6,000 for undergraduates and from $4,000 to $10,000 for graduate students.
- Increase pre-college outreach efforts to notify disadvantaged students about the availability of student aid.
- Strengthen accountability measures to cut student-loan default rates.
- Decrease federal dollars to campus-based programs such as Perkins Loans, College Work Study and State Student Incentive Grants.
- Tighten the definition of "independent student" to eliminate abuse of student-loan programs.
- Simplify needs-analysis forms and other student-aid paperwork.