GOP takeover signals major changes for higher ed

Rep. John Kline, the likely Republican chairman of the powerful House education committee, said he would focus on “commonsense steps to simplify [federal] financial aid, streamline the financial aid application process, and ensure student aid programs are administered efficiently” if selected to head the committee in 2011.

Kline described the White House’s “gainful employment” rules as “complex and burdensome” in a Sept. 9 letter to Duncan, and he urged the education secretary to increase federal oversight over public colleges and universities, too.

In August, Kline said ED’s proposal would “harm students,” especially non-traditional students returning to college.

Funding for federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants could see massive cuts if the GOP abides by its Pledge To America, a list of legislative priorities the party released in the run-up to the Nov. 4 elections.

The Republicans’ pledge included trimming some federal spending to 2008 levels, meaning the Pell Grant program—which assists low-income students and faces a $5.7 billion shortfall—could be scaled back. Federal spending for defense and seniors would not be included in the GOP’s Pledge to America.

The Obama administration raised the maximum Pell Grant amount to $4,860 for fiscal 2011—an increase that was deemed insufficient by some federal financial aid experts, including Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the student loan web site and author of two books about student aid.

Lawmakers would have to double Pell Grant amounts to $10,000 per student to increase the number of college graduates, Kantrowitz said—a stated goal of the Obama administration.

Admissions officials interviewed by eCampus News said the Obama administration’s shift to direct lending from the federal government—a move strongly opposed by GOP leadership—has allowed students to avoid private loans that come with unfavorable repayment terms.

“It’s a very positive trend,” said Lynne Myers, director of financial aid at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., adding that Holy Cross’s Pell Grants have increased by 39 percent from 2009 to 2010. “We saw that the terms and conditions for [private loans] were not favorable to students … so that was a trend that we very much tried to redirect.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has urged Congress to cut back federal financial aid to college students, calling the increase of Pell Grant spending “a vicious cycle.”

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