NAICU Washington Update

Academic Competitiveness/SMART Grants: Some Fixes

Tagged onto the end of last week's student loan liquidity legislation were amendments to Academic Competitiveness and SMART grant programs. Many of these changes are important to private colleges.

Among the most significant corrections was a change in the definition of what students are eligible, in line with the long standing definitions used in other federal student aid programs. For example, resident aliens and other students who had not been eligible because of the citizenship requirement are now eligible. Also eligible are students at institutions where the entire student body takes the same curriculum which is strong in math and science, such as some of the great books colleges. Students who were enrolled in college courses as part of a high school program, also are now eligible, although the bill does not fix the problem of students entering college at the sophomore level.

The bill also changes the definition of a rigorous secondary school program of study for first-year students, removing the authority of the Secretary to identify rigorous programs apart from those recognized by the states. Unfortunately, 60 percent of students currently deemed eligible for the grants were designated under the Secretary's alternate definitions of a rigorous academic program. The change also seems to imply that colleges will have to determine if the curricula of students from private secondary schools and of those who are home-schooled qualify as rigorous. Beyond that, the new provisions become effective January 1, 2009 - in the middle of the academic year.

MORE News from NAICU