College Financial Aid Bill Could Be A ‘Mixed Bag’ For Ga. Students

A new bill introduced in Congress could make big changes to the federal student financial aid program.

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The majority of U.S. college students get some kind of financial aid to help cover the cost of school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The process of applying for and receiving aid can be complicated. Congressional lawmakers are trying to streamline that process through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The bill, introduced in the U.S. House, trims the procedure by getting rid of some long-standing programs.

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Megan Coval is the vice president of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. She says some of the changes in the bill are good for students.

“It calls for the elimination of origination fees, which are fees that are imposed on students when they’re first taking out their federal loans,” Coval says. “So, we were glad to see those eliminated.”

The legislation also simplifies a long form called the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA). All students who apply for federal aid have to fill out the long, detailed form.

However, the bill also does away with some popular provisions, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The plan waives the balance on students’ college loans if they end up working in a service profession, like policing, nursing or teaching.

The possible elimination of that program worries Jameson Brewer, an assistant professor of education at the University of North Georgia.

“It’s going to make it more difficult for us to keep teachers in the classroom, to keep police officers on the street if they’re saddled with more and more debt for entering these low-paid jobs that we desperately need in our state,” Brewer said.

Brewer says most of his students take advantage of the loan forgiveness program.

Michelle Asha Cooper is the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, which issued an analysis of the bill. Cooper says the legislation should ensure financial aid is accessible, especially to underserved students.

“[An effective plan] promotes college affordability by prioritizing need-based aid, and it would be grounded in strong evidence,” Cooper says. “And while there are some components of this legislation that attempt to do some of these things, I do think we have missed the mark in being completely transformative and reform-minded in our efforts to help students prosper.”

Congress could still make changes to the legislation. Neither chamber has voted on the bill yet.