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Elitist Education

Nov. 4, 1999

Education department plan threatens students, colleges

On Monday, the United States Education Department released details of a plan that will be enacted next fall forcing students to repay portions of their Pell Grant and various other forms of financial aid not used for education purposes.

Although the plan seems fair on a surface level, it could have adverse affects on community colleges and students entering low-tuition institutions of higher learning.

Government officials claim the ruling, a part of the Higher Education Act passed in 1998, simply requires students to earn their aid.

'The 1998 changes to the Higher Education Act envisioned a new approach,' D. Jean Veta, the department's deputy general counsel, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. 'The law requires a student to repay a portion of the grant that the student received but didn't earn -- there's nothing we can do about that.'

However, any ruling that, either in intent or in practice, dissuades people from entering college should not be enacted. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that several higher-education officials foresee many students will not be willing to take the risk of enrolling in school with the threat of repaying the government hanging over their heads.

The new rule describes several scenarios for repayment. In essence, a student who withdraws from college will be forced to repay the portion not used for tuition, minus a 50 percent government discount. Students will then be required to either repay the government in 45 days or agree to a payment plan.

The rule could force many institutions to change their aid-refund policies, which would throw more of the cost to students, which is the exact opposite action that should be taken for students who struggle to get by financially as it is.

Although repayment is flexible, higher education officials like David Baime, director of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, believe student debt will still exist.

'The department's interpretation of the law is still going to have harmful consequences for many of our students,' he told The Chronicle.

When drawing up legislation that affects higher education, the government should listen to those the legislation affects -- students and the universities themselves.

Discouraging people from entering college, whether intentionally or not, is not a habit our government should form.