Washington UPDATE: Study Reviews Possible Higher Education Reform Options

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Washington UPDATE: Study Reviews Possible Higher Education Reform Options.

Making student aid contingent on graduation and requiring colleges to contract out for remedial education are among the new options for federal student aid receiving detailed scrutiny by a federal advisory panel.

The report, circulated by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, examines these and other options as colleges prepare for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act next year. Other proposals under consideration in the higher education community include student aid block grants and separate aid programs for academic and vocational/technical students in higher education, the report said.

Graduation-contingent aid would offer students a financial incentive to finish college. Under this system, students in need of aid would receive their entire aid package through loans. Upon graduation, students then would receive loan forgiveness based on economic need.

The report, however, said such an incentive system may not work as expected, while also holding needy students to a different academic standard than non-needy ones. "A graduation-contingent system suggests that student aid is the definitive factor" in whether a student finishes college, the report said. Research, however, shows other issues, including social, educational and demographic, also play a part in student retention.

"By placing higher requirements on students with need, without a parallel requirement for those who do not need assistance, this proposal holds needy students to a higher standard," the study said.

Another option, requiring colleges to contract out for remedial services, also could hurt low-income students, according to the report. Students needing remediation are more likely to live in poverty, speak a language other than English at home and attend two-year colleges.

"For many of these students, access to college and persistence toward a degree is often contingent upon the completion of one or two required remedial courses," the report said. …