Bush Budget Focuses on College Loans, Not Grants

President George W. Bush’s proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year calls for the first increase in Federal Student Loan limits in years. But this increase will likely lead to a decrease in the availability of federal grants for college-bound students, according to some higher education experts. According to Tufts Financial Aid Director Patricia Reilly, the proposed budget “may help students marginally, but the proportion of grant money decreases each year. This budget proposal continues that trend.” About 55 percent of Tufts students receive some form of federal financial aid. While students are encouraged to seek private scholarships, those make up only a fraction of the money some students need to pay tuition. Tufts University gives a substantial amount of aid in the form of Tufts Grants, which are awarded based on financial need and must be reapplied for each year. The grant is combined with work-study and federal and state loans. For students in the class of 2007 who receive financial aid, the average Tufts Grant amount is $19,000. “Tufts is committed to a generous financial aid program,” Reilly said. “We do meet full need and will continue to do so.” Higher education lobbying groups are split on their evaluations of the budget proposal. In a recent press release, the Coalition for Better Student Loans said, “While much more needs to be done in both loan and grant programs for students, [Bush’s] proposals represent an important first step in bringing the federal student loan programs up to date with the reality of student costs.” The State Public Interest Research Group (SPIRG) is concerned with the growing amount of student debt as well. Last year the group called on Congress to not focus on loans in this year’s budget. In a press release from September 2003, the group stated that an increase in loan limits would serve to increase student debt and lead to higher tuitions. According to Kate Rube, a SPIRG Higher Education associate, the government “should be talking about increased grant aid and about ways to make student loan debt more manageable.” The budget’s increase in loan levels may discourage high-need students who are financially unable to incur so much debt. “I think we’re lucky at Tufts that there are better ways to pay for college,” freshman Cristina Sanchez said. “It seems like federal financial aid just focuses on loans.” As far as the federal student loan program, Reilly said, “I would love to see a return to an emphasis on grant money for high-need students.” Bush’s proposal does not change the funding for the Pell Grant, College Work-Study, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant programs. The Perkins Loan, a low-interest plan for students from low-income families, did not receive increased funding for 2005. The Bush administration is proposing to eliminate the program’s funding altogether and redirect it to other financial aid programs. The Bush budget does include options for increased grant aid through the State Scholars program, which requires students to complete a rigorous high school curriculum, including four years of math, science, English, social studies and a foreign language. It provides an additional $1,000 for students’ first two years of college. The proposal also includes an initiative to aid continued education. “This budget continues to support high standards in our schools and proposes a Jobs for the 21st Century Initiative to ensure older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now,” Bush said in his proposal.