College financial aid is -- yes it is -- still available
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Congressional resolutions and federal budget acts have slashed appropriations for student financial aid and made piecemeal changes in regulations that have created confusion and concern among college financial aid directors and the public alike.
The aid program as we know it is changing dramatically. However, $16 billion in public and private aid will be awarded this year, and 3 million students will receive assistance in paying for college.
Some funding and loan programs expire this fiscal year (June 1). Hence the prudent student will build an aid package as quickly as possible.
Some awards may not be as generous as in the past. A student may have to borrow more and work at a part-time job. That's the ''bad'' news, but the ''good'' news is that a college education is still financially possible for almost anyone.
Even more important, with financial aid college may still be affordable regardless of cost, and a student should not rule out a college of interest on the basis of expense alone. Tuition at some colleges may be higher, but so may the aid budget.
College aid officers are more determined than ever to try to ensure an education for an able student in need, and private colleges in particular are drawing upon alumni support and the strength of their endowment to allow them to continue offering aid to a substantial portion of the freshman class.
For example, my college, Lafayette, a small (2,000 students) private college in Easton, Pa., is fairly typical of the nation's selective independent liberal arts colleges. At Lafayette 60 percent of the applicants who are accepted to the college and show need are offered the aid they need.
A financial aid package at such a college for the 1981-82 year might consist of a federal Pell Grant of up to $1,670, a state grant of up to $1,350 for a Pennsylvania student, a work-study job that might yield $800 or $900, and a National Direct Student Loan of up to $1,500 at 5 percent, with payments beginning six months after graduation. Add to that a possible grant from the college itself and even the most expensive college can become affordable.
A Guaranteed Student Loan of up to $2,500 can also be obtained if a student needs still more assistance.
Some colleges, including Lafayette, make it a practice to continue the aid if needed for each of the four years, but not all can do this. Barry McCarty, director of financial aid at Lafayette, advises that a student inquire about such renewal of aid before beginning study.
The key to most aid is need. If you don't need it, you won't get it - and you just can't ask for it but have to prove you need it.
Gone are the days of convenience loans for the well-to-do at government expense, but the changes should have little effect on the neediest students, and a family making $30,000, $40,000, or even more may still be eligible for aid. Although there are cutoff limits for some kinds of aid (federal Pell Grants are at present available only to families with incomes of $25,000 or less, and that figure may be lowered even further), most aid is awarded on the basis of a comprehensive need analysis, which takes many factors into account.