Every year, thousands of students across the United States are denied the chance of a post-secondary education due to a lack of financial aid and the complicated application process.
In order to help ameliorate this problem, The College Board has organized an independent study group called Rethinking Student Aid, which will investigate how to make financial aid more accessible to students.
There is a distinct gap between low and moderate-income students and high-income students when it comes to college enrollment and graduation rates, said Kathleen Little, senior advisor of student aid policy at The College Board.
According to Little, the group aims to simplify the process of applying for financial aid both through federal reforms and through education.
“We are worried about the gaps in college enrollment and graduation rates between low- and moderate-income students and high-income students,” she said. “Even when students are equally prepared academically, it makes a difference. Financial aid is a major factor.”
This is not due to any perceived difference in academic preparation, achievement or talent, but rather due to the financial aid system, Little added. Often, students, their families and even their educators themselves know little about the possibilities for financial aid, and thus the students have no motivation to apply to college, she said.
“The primary reason for making the system simpler is to communicate earlier about financial aid opportunities to prepare better for the option of going to college,” Little said, adding that Rethinking Student Aid’s primary goal is to better communicate to students the financial aid opportunities available. “If you assure students early on that financial aid will be there, there will be more motivation.”
Rethinking Student Aid, a panel of experts in the fields of education and policy, has also proposed changes to the federal financial aid policy.
These include colleges obtaining financial information directly from the Internal Revenue Service instead of having students fill out long tax documents, adjusting the Pell Grants for inflation, and creating a federal savings program in which the government makes deposits into an account designed solely for the purpose of post-secondary education, she said.
Other options include expanding and strengthening a federal student loan repayment plan which is based upon a student’s income following graduation, and creating incentives for colleges to increase retention rates by helping students on financial aid to succeed.
However, Rethinking Student Aid realizes there is still a long road ahead before they see their actions pay off in the form of legislation.
“I think it is safe to say that proposals like the one you referenced will be the subject of extensive debate over the next several years but will not be the subject of any quick action by the Congress,” Fleming said.
While the direct impact of the proposed federal financial aid changes on Georgetown is unclear, students have said they feel that it’s time for a change in the system.
“The current financial aid system helps promote socio-economic diversity on the Georgetown campus,” Shaalin Parekh (MSB ’12) said.
“Thus, any attempts to improve the process and encourage more students of different backgrounds to apply would further diversify the community and would be a welcome change.”
“The short-term goal is to generate interest nationally,” Little said on the aim of Rethinking Student Aid. “Immediately, we want to get students, educators, families, etc. interested in ideas and cause discussion.”