Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Congress Looking at Ease Burden on Low-Income Students: Lesser-Publicized Elements of College Cost Reduction Act Would Benefit Part-Time Students

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Congress Looking at Ease Burden on Low-Income Students: Lesser-Publicized Elements of College Cost Reduction Act Would Benefit Part-Time Students

Article excerpt

Part-time and community college students--who often face some of the greatest barriers to persistence in college--will be among the major winners if higher education legislation on Capitol Hill becomes law.

Legislation in the House and Senate has attracted widespread support because it could produce dramatic gains for low-income students by cutting federal subsidies to lenders and targeting the savings toward financial aid. But the College Cost Reduction Act that recently cleared the House also has other little-known benefits for those often hard pressed to afford higher education.

One provision in the bill would open up the new Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students. This program is geared to low-income, Pell Grant-eligible students who had taken a "rigorous" curriculum while in high school.

Under the program, students could obtain $750 for the first year of college and up to $1,300 for the second year if they maintain a high GPA. But the statute creating the program limited eligibility to full-time students, and many higher education groups had identified changes as a key priority.

"The program needs to be available to all students regardless of their status," says Rebecca Thompson, legislative director for the United States Student Association. "It should be available to every student, whether they are full or part time."

The bill also would open the competitiveness grant to students in certificate programs as well as students who are legal U.S. residents, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. When enacted, the program offered eligibility only to U.S. citizens, a provision that has drawn criticism from many groups.

"It represented the first time we had a financial aid program based on citizenship," says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "It's an exclusion that has kept some students out of the program."

Another provision of the bill would eliminate the Pell Grant tuition sensitivity provision, a rule that has deprived community college students--particularly in California--from receiving larger Pell Grants. While these students attend relatively low-cost institutions, they incur other significant costs of attendance such as fees, books, supplies, transportation and housing. The low cost of their colleges, however, affects their Pell awards.

The tuition sensitivity provision "has prevented students attending the least expensive community colleges from qualifying for the maximum grant," says Dr. …

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