February 3, 2006

Congress cuts student aid by $12 billion

In what education activists said was the largest cut ever to student aid, the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to slash federal aid to college students by up to $12 billion.

The bill, which passed the House by a razor-thin margin of 216 to 214, reduces federal spending by $40 billion. It cleared the Senate December 21 and will become law, unless President Bush decides to veto it.

“Today the House of Representatives completed the largest raid on student aid in history,” said Luke Swarthout, Higher Education spokesman for the State Public Interest Research Groups. “At a time when college costs continue to rise and students are going deeper into a financial hole, Congress has decided to use students and families to pay for other priorities.”

Advocates of the plan say it clamps down on wasteful spending while allowing more flexibility for students.

House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) defended the bill. In a statement after the vote, he said the bill would reduce subsidies to lenders and add oversight accountability.

The bill eliminates the possibility that lenders earn more than the minimum return, Boehner said. He said it would end “Clinton-era loopholes that allowed a 9.5 percent rate of return on some student loans.”

Swarthout said that the money saved from excessive subsidies should be reinvested in students. His group, the Higher Education Project, was established in 1994 to lobby for student interests.

Students have increasingly borrowed money to finance their college educations. According to the Higher Education Project, the volume of college loans has increased 60 percent since 1998.

The aid cut could add as much as $5,800 to the average college student’s debt, they estimate. It is currently about $17,500.

House Education Committee spokeswoman Alexa E. Marrero defended the proposed reductions and made clear that they are not cuts to programs that directly affect students. “The $5,800 is based on an inaccurate representation of what these policies are,” she said.