Reform Plan Targets Student Repayments on Federal Grant Aid
Needy students who drop out of college may face fewer responsibilities to pay back federal grant aid if a proposal from leading higher education groups becomes law.
With support from more than a dozen other groups, the American Council on Education (ACE) is calling for major changes in the U.S. Department of Education’s repayment policy for college dropouts. Low-income students who drop out of school would face less burdensome repayment schedules under the regulatory reform plan, which was sent to a Congress that is interested in reducing education rules and red tape.
ACE and the other groups, such as the American Association of Community Colleges, submitted the plan as part of “Fed. Up,” the U.S. House of Representatives’ effort to reduce rules and regulations affecting colleges.
Under the reform blueprint, a student could withdraw from school once without having to repay Pell Grant dollars. Students who ultimately would be subject to repayment also would have to return no more than 50 percent of their grant funds, the plan states. Another provision would give colleges greater flexibility to grant leaves of absence to students, perhaps eliminating the need for a student to withdraw completely from school.
Many education groups claim that the repayment policy, set in 1998, is a disincentive for dropouts to return to college. Among prospective students, the knowledge that they may have to repay grant funds may scare off some from even attempting college, critics say. The current repayment policy, ACE says, is “unduly harsh” on low-income and at-risk students.
ACE’s proposal is among approximately 3,000 comments submitted to the House as part of “Fed. Up,” a bipartisan review of what critics term burdensome federal regulations affecting colleges. The effort is led by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness.
Reporting campus crime
Another major theme from college leaders is a streamlining of federal regulations on the reporting of campus crime. A 1990 statute requiring annual campus security reports and its subsequent updates are ever-changing and “mind-numbingly complex,” ACE says, sometimes confusing both college administrators and federal officials.
Key areas of concern include the department’s definition of a “campus,” which ACE says is so broad that it includes areas adjacent to campus as well as rented space miles from central facilities. The definition represents a “compliance nightmare” for colleges, ACE says.
Also, at some of the largest colleges and universities, more than 1,000 individuals must be trained to report crime information, ACE and its partners say. “We believe that the law requires more campus officials to report information than any other federal law from any federal agency,” ACE says.
To improve the Clery Act, which amended the 1990 Campus Security Act to eliminate loopholes and expand reporting requirements, college leaders recommend a rewriting of regulations in “ordinary language” that avoids confusion. The education department should amend the act “with an emphasis on clear, unambiguous reporting requirements and simplified reporting mechanisms.”
But safety activists are leading a charge against any changes.
“All of the regulations on the books now were carefully crafted to ensure that image-conscious schools couldn’t hide crime from their students,” says Connie and Howard Clery, co-founders of Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based group, in their letter to McKeon about “Fed. Up.” A weakening of the regulations “would jeopardize student safety,” they say.
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