University News

Federal aid proposal to target rising tuition costs

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to incentivize lowering college tuition by redirecting federal financial aid from universities that raise college costs to schools taking steps to lower costs. Though the University could be affected by the proposed plan, it is still too early to gauge the exact effect these polices would have, said Jim Tilton, director of financial aid.

“If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down,” Obama said in his address. As part of his goal of making the United States the country with the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020, Obama also proposed investing $55 million to improve teaching and $1 billion in an initiative similar to the Race to the Top that would reward states that control tuition rates. The Perkins Loan Program, which provides federal money administered by the University at a capped interest rate, and other “campus-based aid” would be expanded to $10 billion, according to the White House statement. Obama will also ask Congress to keep interest rates low on subsidized Stafford student loans, which have variable interest rates. Rates are currently set at 3.4 percent, but are scheduled to double in the next academic year.

Institutions of higher education have generally reacted positively to the proposal, though “it is still short on details,” said Amy Carroll, director of government relations and community affairs. “We’re waiting to see more details to be able to assess how that would impact Brown and then decide on an advocacy strategy in Washington.”

Developing a response to the policies would likely involve working with the other Rhode Island schools, other major research institutions and the state’s representatives in Congress, Carroll said.

Federal government aid does not figure largely into total financial support for students at Brown. 

“We get a small amount of aid compared to the amount Brown commits to aid each year,” Tilton said. The University receives roughly $5 million in federal aid, which includes Perkins loans, compared to total aid of $88.5 million last year and $90 million next year, Tilton said. 

Still, a decrease in government contributions would directly impact the University’s aid budget and ability to sponsor students, he said. The University will continue to monitor the progress of the policy to see what changes are actually put in place.

“We’ve been able to respond to other issues that have been brought up through the federal government,” Tilton said. 

“Under President Simmons’ leadership, Brown has a great story to tell on financial aid,” Carroll said. “It’s almost tripled what the institutional money has been.” 

 Senators from both parties have voiced concern over the increased regulation implied through the policy, saying that complying with the regulations will only increase tuition, according to an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

“This is going to cause problems for the institutions that have the least resources to being with,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of higher education policy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in a Jan. 30 Inside Higher Ed article. 

“The answer is not going to come from more federal controls on colleges or states,” wrote David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, in a press statement.

Senate Democrats and University officials praised the initiatives. 

“It’s great news, but we just need to know just exactly what it looks like,” Tilton said. “For me as an aid director, it’s great.”

Any proposal will have to pass through Congress before it is implemented.

“I’ve learned not to predict what (Congress) might do,” said Carroll, who worked in Congress for eight years.

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