THE PRESIDENT'S radio broadcast last Saturday -- in which he set out to dispel what he claimed was a "great misconception" of his plans for aid to higher education--strikes us as different in kind from his occasional press conference garbling of certain facts. In this case there was ample time for preparation. And while Mr. Reagan may have surprised many of his aides by his choice of topics, the array of statistics included in his prepared remarks makes it clear that he had access to ample staff assistance. In this case it was not in fact the numbers that were wrong. What was wrong was that the numbers he used don't tell the story about what he is proposing to the country.
"We haven't cut (student) loans," said the president, "we've cut the cost to taxpayers of making these loans available. Surely, no one can quarrel with the reduction in administrative costs that results in more money for needy students."
The fact is, however, that these administrative savings aside, the administration has already cut student loans and it wants to cut them more. As of last October, students from families with incomes above $30,000 have had to prove need to get a partial or full loan. Maximum interest rates for students were raised to 9 percent and for parents to 14 percent. (Private banks make the loans, but the government pays all interest on student loans while the students are in school and the difference between market rates and the subsidized rate thereafter. Presumably that's what the president meant when he said that "not one dime of the money being cut has ever gone directly for loans to students"--it just went to make the loans affordable.)
Because these changes weren't effective before the start of the school year, their impact won't be felt until next year--but they are part of what is currently worrying many students. In his 1983 budget, the president wants to tighten up further by applying the needs test to lower-income students, cutting graduate students out of the 9 percent loan program, terminating interest subsidies two years after graduation or if a student quits school, and doubling loan fees. All of this is expected to save over $900 million in 1983 and affect several hundred thousand students. The president assumes that these students will get aid from new, lightly subsidized loan programs--which is why his figures don't show a drop-off in students aided--but half the states don't have such programs yet, and banks have shown little interest in starting them.
The money saved will not be used for lower-income students. Instead, the grant programs for these students will also be cut. The major Pell grant program is slated for a 40 percent reduction--not counting inflation--and three other aid programs now serving several hundred thousand low-income students would be eliminated entirely. All in all, the House budget committee estimates that almost 2 million fewer college students would receive aid in the 1983-84 school year than in the previous year.
When the president returns to the airwaves next Saturday, perhaps he will want to defend the case for these cuts. But he cannot deny they are real or that many people will be affected by them--and it is baffling to us why he would have so distorted his administration's position in a public nationwide broadcast.