The Education Department told colleges and universities yesterday that as of Aug. 1 they must receive a student's statement of compliance with the draft law before disbursing any federal financial aid.
The federal guidelines went out to more than 9,000 schools in the wake of Wednesday's Supreme Court decision clearing the way for the government to deny financial aid to eligible students who have not registered for the draft. A spokesman for a financial aid officers' group said that schools may be forced to track down students over the summer to avoid delays in enrollment this September.
The government estimates that about 4 million students receive federal aid annually. The draft law requires young men to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
Financial aid officers, who as a group have taken no position on the constitutionality of the law linking draft registration with student aid, have been thrown into confusion by its on-again, off-again status.
The law was enacted last summer. But in March, U.S. District Court Judge Donald D. Alsop in Minnesota issued a temporary injunction on constitutional grounds. Alsop made his decision permanent last month.
On Wednesday, two days before the law's July 1 effective date, the Supreme Court--while making no determination on the constitutional issue--stayed Alsop's ruling, putting the law back on the books.
Theoretically, that gave the schools 48 hours to get compliance statements from a million or more students whose loan applications have been approved. Most of the paperwork on guaranteed loans, Pell grants and other forms of student aid is handled in the spring.
Yesterday's action by the Education Department gave schools an extra month before they must begin complying.
The guidelines said that prior to Aug. 1 schools may delay in obtaining student certifications while continuing to certify guaranteed student loan applications and give out aid.
William Moran, deputy director of policy and program development at the Education Department, said the guidelines give schools flexibility and minimize the necessity to locate vacationing students and notify them of their obligation to certify their draft status in order to receive aid.
Dallas Martin, executive director of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Officers, gave the Education Department credit for responding quickly. Still, Martin said, "A lot of schools have been operating and processing applications and have had no time to prepare.
". . .The only time we can effectively control the aid process is at the beginning . . . , and we're well past that now. Now we've got the burden of going out and getting the statements. Schools will want to do as much as they can in advance so they don't have to do this check by check in the fall."