U.S. Senate bill could increase financial-aid grants, if passed

Northwestern students could receive more financial aid benefits if a proposal sponsored by Senate Democrats is passed during the next congressional session.

Still in a senatorial committee, the bill could increase federal financial aid grants for up to $700 per student each year. To get the extra funding, states must maintain 90 percent of their previous year’s state higher-education funding.

The College Quality, Affordability, and Diversity Improvement Act of 2003 proposal comes after several university officials have criticized Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., and his Affordability in Higher Education Act, which would cap rising tuition costs at both public and private schools. Under McKeon’s controversial act, universities could only raise tuition every three years.

But university officials nationwide worry that the price control could harm students who most need financial aid because it would cut federal funds from universities that do not comply. The bill would cut funding to Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and the Perkins Loan Program but not to Pell Grants.

Bruce Layton, NU’s special assistant to the president for government relations, declined to comment on the Democrats’ proposal. He said he had only seen a summary of the measure.

Every six years, legislators re-evaluate national higher-education policies and allocations. Both the Democratic and Republican proposals are intended to update the Higher Education Act, which expires next year. The current act provides funding for programs related to student and institutional financial aid and those that promote high school graduates to enroll in universities. The U.S. Department of Education administers these programs.

Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Republicans and Democrats frequently submit different proposals about similar concerns, such as higher education.

Bozzi said he doesn’t know when the Senate will vote on the bill because its current session is nearly over. But even if the bills are considered, some tax provisions must be amended, he said.

Some university officials have said too few schools are voicing their opinions about how McKeon’s proposal will adversely affect them. Most comments still come from students and parents concerned about how they’ll pay for a college education, Bozzi said.

Angela Benander, Washington press secretary for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Durbin frequently hears from constituents about rising costs of college tuition. She said he is concerned — both as a senator and as a parent.

“This will be an opportunity to deal with some of the problems confronting so many college students and their families by expanding federal grant opportunities, exploring effective tax incentives for college and increasing the maximum amount for Pell grants,” Durbin said in a press release.

Josh Nichol-Caddy, a Communication sophomore who is on financial aid, said he is worried about the future of college tuition and the quality of education.

“Changes that huge take a long time to happen,” he said. “But it’s a bit concerning that a major party thinks you can cap an educational institution’s amount of funding. If you want people to be educated, you have to support people in that endeavor.”