The Education Department, which last week revealed that defaulted student loan claims will top $1 billion this fiscal year, is launching a counterattack against deadbeat students.
This week, the department plans to propose tough new regulations for the guaranteed student loan program, spelling out how overdue loans are to be collected. The changes are designed to put more pressure on banks and state lending agencies to collect the overdue money before claiming default and forcing taxpayers to make up the difference.
Specifically, the department is planning to increase the requirements lenders must meet to show that they have exercised "due diligence" in trying to collect a loan. Part of the problem, according to one department official, is a lack of communication between the lending institution and the student who took out the loan, particularly in the case of secondary markets.
For example, this official said, if a bank makes a student loan, and then sells that loan to another institution, the student may not be aware that a different bank now holds his loan. It becomes particularly confusing if the student changes addresses and tries to notify the original lender. He often will get no response or be told that the bank no longer has the loan.
The department is also expected to require that checks for loans be made payable to both the student and his college. That would help ensure that students cannot cash a loan check and head for the Bahamas without registering for class. It would also stop another type of student loan abuse: investing the money in high-yield bonds and certificates while Mom and Dad cover the tuition bills.
FUNDS FOR BLACK COLLEGES . . . Education Secretary William J. Bennett is patting himself on the back with a new report on federal aid to the nation's historically black colleges and universities.
A department report shows that aid from 27 federal agencies to 100 historically black colleges increased to $620 million in fiscal 1984, up from $606 million the year before. Funds have increased by $75 million since 1981. Overall, the schools received 5.7 percent of federal aid to higher education.
Bennett said the figures showing increased federal dollars to the black colleges "demonstrate the continued commitment of federal agencies to help these institutions."
President Reagan has made aid to historically black colleges a hallmark of his education policy. It also provides a major selling point with an influential segment of the black community at a time when Reagan's relations with black America are frigid at best.
The historically black colleges have been somewhat troubled recently, the victims of declining enrollment and pressure to integrate. Some are also engaged in fights to keep their accreditation, and in some states, tough new requirements for teacher training schools have created problems for them.
Lately, historically black colleges have also come under challenge from another quarter within higher education -- large, urban universities such as those in the State University of New York system and Wayne State University in Detroit. Those schools serve more black students than the historically black colleges, but are not entitled to the same kinds of federal aid since they are not "historically" black. Some members of Congress are trying to change that restriction.
CHAPTER I SUIT . . . Americans United for Separation of Church and State is upset over Bennett's reaction to a July Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the use of public money to pay teachers who offer programs in church-affiliated schools.
That court said funds from the Chapter I program, which provides remedial help to poor children in disadvantaged areas, could no longer be used to pay public school teachers who were going into religious school classrooms -- even though Congress has said the program must serve children in all schools, public, private and religious. Bennett, in response, blasted the court for showing a "fastidious disdain for religion," and told school districts that the department would consider supporting them if they wanted to seek a delay in complying with the ruling.
In a news conference last week, Robert Maddox, executive director of Americans United, said that because Bennett is "foot-dragging," his group has "no choice but to lodge against him a lawsuit charging him with willfully failing to implement the rulings of the Supreme Court."
Maddox said the the group wants to force Bennett to comply with the ruling this school year, and to block any attempt by the department to use federal funds to help school districts that go to court. The department has not said that it will give money to the school districts it supports, although a spokesman refused to say flatly that such help was out of the question.
Maddox also criticized Bennett's plans to use the Supreme Court decision as a vehicle to lobby Congress to support vouchers, a pet project of Bennett and the New Right. Under the proposal, which Bennett has promised to send to Congress this fall, parents who qualify for Chapter I money would receive a "check" or "voucher" redeemable at the school of their choice, whether public or church-affiliated.
"Apparently Mr. Bennett intends to create confusion and crisis for both public and parochial schools as an excuse to arm-twist the Congress into passing some sort of voucher program," Maddox said.
He added: "Such a program would cost billions of dollars, jeopardize public school funding and subject religious schools to further government regulation."