Tying student loans to draft registration -- an administrative hot potato

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

College financial aid officials can be excused if they are looking for another job.

This year's federal student loan cutbacks, the hash of government rules and regulations they must administer, plus a maze of Education Department compliance forms to file, often make the officials feel as if they work for the government, not their own college.

And now Uncle Sam wants them to add some military duty.

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Draft-age men would have to provide financial aid officers with a copy of a letter they received from the Selective Service proving they had registered for the draft. Then, and only then, could students receive federal loans.

The rule stems from a law passed by Congress last summer as a rider to a defense appropriations bill. The law stipulates any student who has not registered for the draft will be ineligible to receive federal grants and loans after June 1983. So far, the guidelines are tentative. The Education Department will propose specific regulations for colleges and universities by the middle of January.

Student aid officers are already looking for foxholes. At the very least, these officials worry that the law might cause delays and backlogs in processing student-aid applications.

''We have practical concerns about anything that causes us more work, more T's to cross and I's to dot,'' says Vincent DeAnda, associate dean of financial aid at Stanford University. ''What do you do with a student who says he lost the form, or never received it? Such delays can back up our financial aid operations to all students.''

But the greater concern is that it will make university officials assume the role of military policeman.

''We would hope we would not get caught in the middle of verification and validation of how true the statement of a student having registered was,'' says James J. Scannell, dean of admissions and financial aid at Cornell University. ''Filling out financial aid forms is a period of some concern to students. They are asked to open both their own and their families' personal financial affairs to us. This will be one more revelation adding to that anxiety, especially if they are making a philosophic or political statement on the draft.''

''Congress would be asking colleges to enforce a regulation for the Justice Department,'' says Dr. John Blasi, academic vice-president at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y. ''I am very much opposed to it. It asks us to report on only those students who need aid. What about students who don't need a loan and don't register?''

Yale University has announced that it will provide university scholarship funds to make up for the loss of federal grants to students who fail to register , while at the same time making it clear it will obey the law and cooperate with whatever the regulations require. Stanford University is considering doing the same. Earlham College, a Quaker institution, has already told students it will do so.

''The key financial difference will be that a student will have to borrow at market interest rates, not the 9 percent the government provides,'' says Walter Littell, director of public relations for Yale. ''Over four years, it would result in an added cost of $3,000-$4,000 for a student.''

But any willingness on the part of colleges to provide draft resisters alternatives to federal funding raises a number of thorny questions. Mr. Scannell asks, ''Will providing money to nonregistrants serve as an inducement for more young men not to register than would do so without the aid?

''The federal approach assumes that everyone who needs financial aid is guilty unless they prove themselves innocent,'' says David Landau of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has issued an amicus brief to a suit contesting the law. Filed by a Minnesota public-interest group, the suit claims the law linking draft registration and student aid discriminates against low-income men who would need financial aid and violates a student's right against self-incrimination. A trial date is set for Jan. 10.

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