Higher education and Reagan: a report card

When the Reagan administration came into office, it attempted to make sweeping budget cuts and major policy changes in programs affecting higher education. In no uncertain terms, it sought to reduce the federal role.

Critics of the administration's plans argued that the proposed changes were based on naive and simplistic assumptions about one of the more complex and important sectors of American society.

Congress, in what collectively appeared to be very uncertain terms, struck a middle ground, going along with some budget cuts but keeping to the status quo on major policy issues.

Since the November elections, education observers have predicted a continued tacking back and forth on issues of substance with only moderate chances for significant change.

One highly placed official in the Department of Education comments: ''The differences aren't going to go away; it's more than a question of budget reductions and controversy between the executive and legislative branch. The whole role of the federal government in education is being challenged.''

At midterm the Reagan administration's record on key higher-education issues shapes up as follows:

Department of Education. Like a principal who wants to expel a student but can't, Mr. Reagan was unable to abolish the department.

He wanted to replace it with a foundation having reduced regulatory powers. He wanted to transfer many programs to other federal agencies. No change in the department's structure occurred. Legislation on the foundation proposal is yet to be submitted to Congress.

Guaranteed Student Loans. The President tried to curb the growth of federal spending for these loans, known as GSLs. His plan was to have all students demonstrate financial need before qualifying. And he wanted to charge a 10 percent fee on each loan as well as reduce federal interest subsidies on them.

So far, federal spending on GSLs has almost doubled since 1980, but the number of GSLs is expected to drop 20 percent from fiscal '81 to '82. Only students whose families earn more than $30,000 a year must demonstrate financial need to qualify for a loan. A 5 percent fee is charged on loans and interest subsidies have not been reduced.

Pell Grants. The administration sought to cut them by more than 40 percent and reduce their availability to most students whose families earn more than $18 ,000 a year. In an effort to tighten up on abuses of Pell Grants (intended for low-income recipients) the administration wanted information on all grant applications to be checked against income-tax forms.

So far, there has been no change in this budget since 1980. Grants are available to students whose families earn up to $26,000 a year. Half of all grant applications are to be checked against tax forms.

Social security student benefits. The administration sought to bar college students from receiving social security after Aug. 1, 1981, and to reduce gradually the payments to students already receiving benefits, completely eliminating the program by 1984.

So far, college students are barred from entering the program after May 1, 1982. Payments to students already receiving benefits will be reduced gradually, and the program will be eliminated by 1985.

Other student-aid programs. The administration sought to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and State Student Incentive Grants. It also sought to provide no new funds for National Direct Student Loans, and to bar colleges with loan default rates over 25 percent from receiving additional loan money.

The budget for supplemental grants and incentive grants was cut 4 percent while new funds for direct loans were cut by more than 35 percent. Colleges with default rates of over 25 percent are barred from receiving additional money.

College-aid programs. The administration sought to eliminate many small special-purpose grants to colleges, including aid for cooperative education, libraries, and campus programs serving veterans; graduate fellowships for women and minority students; aid to states for higher-education planning.

Grants for state planning were eliminated. Most of the other programs were continued with reduced budgets.

Overall deregulation. The administration sought to reduce the number of federal regulations, paper work, and costs of compliance to colleges and universities.

Executive orders instructing federal agencies that benefits of new regulations must be greater than their potential costs are in place.

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