ollege students, and those of you planning to enter college, don't yet realize how bad the money pinch will be next year. The Reagan administration wants to cut large numbers of people out of the student-aid program, or reduce the amount of help they get. Modest cuts were made this year, but not enough to alarm most families. Next year, however, the earthquake hits. Here's the timetable:
* Student-aid cuts, phase one, reduced Pell grants for the 1981-82 school year (these grants are the government's basic form of student aid). Also, families making more than $30,000 were forced to prove financial need before qualifying for a tax-subsidized student loan. The new needs test, however, did not take effect until after most students got their school loans for the current year. So they have not yet really felt the blow.
* Student-aid cuts, phase two, went through Senate hearings last week. The administration has proposed further reductions in Pell grants (see below).
* Student-aid cuts, phase three, are expected to be announced some time this week, and will further limit access to tax-subsidized student loans. A financial-needs test will probably be applied to all students seeking loans. There may be higher up-front fees. Also, graduate students might have to pay more interest than undergraduates.
* Student-aid cuts, phase four, will be unveiled in January when President Reagan presents his budget proposals for 1983. "You can expect that the student-aid programs will not be lightly touched," a Budget Office source said ominously. A larger percentage of the student-aid budget will be reserved for poorer students. Middle-class students will have to draw more deeply on their own financial resources.
Self-supporting students--including those with children of their own--were especially hard hit by phase one of the student-loan cuts. Student-aid sources told my associate, Virginia Wilson, that the trend will continue.
Right now, phase two of the proposed cuts lies in the hands of Congress. The administration has asked that spending for all the major student-aid programs be dropped below last year's levels. So less money would be made available to cover college costs that are currently rising by 13 percent to 14 percent.
For the 1981-82 school year, a typical family of four was eligible for the minimum Pell grant, worth $120, if its income did not exceed about $25,000. (Grants rise as incomes fall, to a maximum grant of $1,670 this year.)
Under the administration's proposed new formula for 1982-83, a typical two-income family of four making more than about $15,800 would be dropped from the program. The $15,800 family would get $200. Lower-income families would get more.
People with incomes a little above $15,800 might still qualify for help under three other federal programs--national direct student loans, supplemental educational opportunity grants and college work study. But that help would be limited.
To avoid such draconian cuts, the Education Department has suggested certain changes in the formula that determines your eligibility for grants. But it is questionable whether Congress would be able to act on those changes any time soon.
Higher-education lobbyists are concentrating their fire not on the proposed Pell grant regulations but on the total funding level. If Congress can be persuaded not to cut the total budget for student aid, Pell grants can be given to almost as many students who got them last year.
"The megapolitical question is whether we will veto a student-aid bill that comes in at a much higher funding level than the president wants," says a budget office source. "It has been rumored that we are looking for bills to veto. This could be one of them."
In defending these cuts, Budget Director David Stockman said, "In the 1960s we didn't have Pell grants. . . . Yet tens of millions of college students from lower, middle and upper-income families alike found their way through college." Moving as he does in all-college circles, Stockman may not realize how charmed those circles used to be. In 1965, only 5.5 million people in the entire nation were in college. Among 18 to 21-year-olds, 39 percent were undergraduates.
But thanks in part to the big increase in student aid, an estimated 11.6 million people were in college last year, including 56.7 percent of the 18- to 21-year-olds. A good many of these students could probably make it through college with less aid--but exactly how many is anybody's guess. Sharply reducing student aid will almost certainly cause some reduction in the percentage of college-trained Americans.