NAICU Washington Update

"Paying for College" Gets Respectful House Hearing

May 09, 2007

The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) held a May 1 hearing in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The well-attended "Paying for a College Education: Barriers and Solutions for Students and Families" focused on both the financial hurdles that students face, and suggestions for overcoming them.

Witness Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent College and University Association and vice-chair of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, said that the barriers to college for low- and moderate-income families can be grouped into four main categories: finances, inadequate academic preparation, lack of information, and the complexity of the college application process. Among the Advisory Committee's recommendations for changes to the HEA, Pressnell urged support for a program to encourage partnerships with business and private philanthropic organizations to contribute to funding college access activities.

Dallas Martin, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), also testified. He explained the role and importance of campus aid administrators in providing information and assistance to students needing financial assistance. The expansion and complexity of federal regulations and programs has increased the demands on aid administrators, he said. Lack of support from the Department of Education, and sometimes from university officials, Martin said, "has forced many financial aid offices to seek assistance from lenders, guaranty agencies, and others to print student financial aid consumer information, to perform student loan exit and entrance counseling, to establish call centers, and to provide additional staffing during peak periods in the financial aid office."

Perhaps surprisingly, given the current scrutiny of the bank-based federal loan programs, Martin was asked only one question. Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) wanted to know why NASFAA had rejected a proposal that would have restricted gifts from lenders to financial aid administrators. Martin replied that the NASFAA board was divided on whether tougher action was necessary, and said that the organization is currently reviewing a new code of conduct.

Another witness, Luke Swarthout, higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, stressed the need to simplify the admissions and aid process, ensure more grant aid, seek ways to limit textbook prices, and reduce student debt. Jim Boyle, president of College Parents of America, urged that the threshold for tax deductions for educational expenses be raised, so more middle class families could benefit from them.

Hinojosa concluded the hearing by adding three observations of his own. He sees parental involvement as a key to student success, and noted that for Hispanic students the role of the mother is especially important. He urged that families save more for college, and that the tax code be used more creatively to assist low-income students, such as via subsidized housing.

An archived webcast of the hearing, as well as the text of witness testimony, is available through the Web site of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

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