If two of the budget cuts President Reagan has recently proposed are passed, I will not be able to attend Georgetown University next year. The reason is this: the average cost per year at Georgetown and most of the nation's private universities is $10,000. For the rich, this is not a problem; their own resources can meet the expense. For the poor, it is an inconvenience because they must fill out many financial aid forms. For the middle-class student like me, the $10,000 yearly cost is a great problem because, unlike the rich, my own resources cannot meet the expense, and, unlike the poor, I am not eligible for most financial aid.
What, then, does a middle-class student do? First of all, he works as many hours as he can during the school year and full-time during the summer. Second, he takes out a student loan. Third, he claims financial independence from his parents so that he might receive a government grant. And fourth, he hopes that some unexpected expense doesn't arise.
Unfortunately, the unexpected expense that I had hoped wouldn't arise has. President Reagan wants to cut two programs, the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program (BEOG) and the Federally Insured Student Loan Program, both of which make it possible for me to attend a reputable institution like Georgetown. If they are cut, the Ivy League schools will cater to an infinitesimally small percentage of the population, the rich and the poor.
The BEOG program awards, upon demonstration of need, $200 to $1,800 per school year to college students. The federally insured loans are obtained from the student's home state. These are low-interest loans, around 7 percent, which the student isn't required to begin repaying until nine months after graduation. A student is entitled to $2,500 during any single school year and not more than $7,500 during total undergraduate study.
Here is where the problem begins. President Reagan has suggested that both programs be cut in terms of total dollars and that the criteria upon which need is demonstrated become more restrictive. For example, the BEOG program currently rewards students whose family income is $25,000 or less. This prerequisite is disputable in its present form. The government assumes that a family with an income of $35,000 a year can afford to send even one child to a private university at $10,000 a year. Now the president wants to reduce the cutoff mark for aid to perhaps $20,000 a year. (The exact amount is not yet known.) This restriction will exclude students from middle-income families entirely and a percentage of the students from lower-income families as well.
To date, the Federally Insured Student Loan Program has been the saving grace for the middle class. If a family that earns $35,000 a year wants to send a child to a private university at $10,000 a year, it must take out a loan and pay the balance from its personal funds. The family currently isn't eligible for federal grant monies -- unless the student is financially independent -- and will be less so if President Reagan's proposal passes. Furthermore, if the student applies for aid from his school, he will be one of the last in line for aid -- that is, if he is eligible for any at all. The only alternative is a low-interest loan.
Unfortunately, the Federally Insured Student Loan Program is currently having a problem with students who default on repayment. However, the answer is not to cut the program or reduce the amount a student may borrow. Two alternatives to cutting this essential program are to require the parents to co-sign for the loan and to make those low-interest loans available to the parents to use for the student's tuition.
Again, if the Federally Insured Student Loan Program were cut, the middle class would be the hardest hit. If the BEOG program were cut, some of the middle class and most of the students from lower-income families would be affected. Both of these programs have had a positive effect on minority and lower-income student enrollment; thus, a negative impact if they are reduced. For example, in an article about student financial aid, George Neill, columnist for Phi Delta Kappan, says "between 1968 and 1978 . . . the percentage of blacks enrolled in colleges and universities at the undergraduate level increased a phenomenal 300 percent. This increase can be attributed directly to a boost of $3.8 billion in federal appropriations for student aid between 1973 and 1980. During the same period, guaranteed student loans increased 400 percent -- from $1.1 billion to $5.5 billion."
Clearly, the previous two administrations recognized the need for increased student aid. The Reagan administration, on the other hand, in eliminating many of the unnecessary government expenditures, has chosen to decrease student financial aid. However, of the $14.2 billion allotted for education in the 1980 budget, only 22 percent went to student loans and grants. The remaining 78 percent went to the states for elementary and intermediate education. Moreover, the monies from the federal government for locall education are further supplemented by the individual states. Thus, if the state funds were combined with federal funds, the college student actually receives less than 22 percent of the total funds allocated for education.
In any case, if President Reagan's objective is to cut the excess from the Education Department, he should look down avenues other than the one leading to student financial aid. Tuition costs alone have risen all over the country as much as 15 percent, which in the case of Georgetown University means an additional $750 for each student.
Today, most students have some type of financial aid package -- i.e., loan, grant, work study or scholarship. Thus, a reduction in funds or an increase of restrictions to obtain them on the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program or the Federally Insured Student Loan Program will exclude the middle class from the nation's private universities, and only a select group of students will be able to attend them -- namely, the upper- and lower-income students. My financial aid officer spelled out the situation quite clearly: "You won't be able to afford this school next year." And, indeed I won't, if these two essential programs are cut.