New bill will not alter financial aid

by Katie Silberman | 11/8/05 6:00am

Legislation pending in Congress to redistribute federal funding for colleges and universities will not significantly affect Dartmouth, according to Director of Financial Aid Virginia Hazen.

The bill, H.R. 609, will reauthorize the Higher Education Act, a set of federal loan and grant programs that give millions of dollars to students and colleges every year. It is supposed to be renewed every five years, but the current legislation has been stalled since 1998. The House had intended to vote on the bill on Sept. 30, but Hurricane Katrina threw a monkey wrench in renewal plans.

Critics of the legislation claim that it disproportionately favors older, more affluent colleges that have been involved with government programs longer.

The proposed changes will reallocate money in the federal work-study program, the Perkins loan program and supplemental educational opportunity grants to schools with more financially needy students.

According to Hazen, the proposed legislation will not affect the College because Perkins loans, which used to be Dartmouth's main source of undergraduate funding, were recently abolished at the College and because Dartmouth does not currently receive more federal funding than it deserves.

"When authorization forms are sent to schools, the government gives each school a 'fair share' of funding," Hazen said. "What's really at issue is how some institutions get more than their 'fair share.' Dartmouth didn't. And if we did it was a very minimal amount, probably around $200,000, and would have been from the Perkins loans, which we are not using this year."

Because Dartmouth did not maximize the funds it received, the reallocation of funding will not severely hurt the College, unlike other area schools, such as the University of New Hampshire.

"The places that will really be affected are schools like UNH, where there is a greater pool of needy students. These places had been maximizing the funds they received and will feel very heavily the loss of the funding," Hazen said.

Under the current program, the federal government funds colleges based on a formula that takes into account how many needy students they have and how long the school has been involved in a federal funding program. Supporters of the revised bill contend that allocation should have nothing to do with length of time in the program -- they say a newer community college in New Hampshire, for example, deserves as much federal funding as an older institution like Dartmouth.

Because of Dartmouth's $2.45-billion endowment, federal funding is not as necessary to guarantee full coverage of all undergraduate tuition. Federal grant funds composed only six percent of the College's total undergraduate financial aid in the 2004-2005 school year, Hazen said.

Hazen, however, worried for schools without such a large safety net. "I think [the pending bill] will have a severe impact on schools that do not have sizeable endowments," she said.

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