Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.), who was present at the creation of federal student aid programs, hopes to preside over their redesign this Congress as the new chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Ford has promised that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which this year generated about $19 billion in financial aid for 6 million college students, will not be routine. Any major innovations in the current loan, grant and work-study programs could affect enrollment patterns and graduation rates as well as state and college financial aid policies.

Ford, 63, succeeded Augustus F. Hawkins, a California Democrat who retired, as chairman of a committee whose influence has waned since it helped shape the Great Society programs in the 1960s. A 26-year committee veteran who is as liberal as his predecessor, Ford oversaw the last two House reauthorizations of student aid programs and will direct the next one as chairman of the subcommittee on postsecondary education.

"This is not just going to be a reauthorization where we dust off the furniture and rearrange it," he said.

In a speech last week to college and private student aid officials, Ford outlined a number of possible student aid changes.

He repeated his proposal for "front-loading" Pell grants, which are awarded to students based on need and college costs. A series of changes would make the grants a benefit and substitute them for loans in the first years of postsecondary enrollment in an effort to reduce loan defaults and encourage low-income students to enter college.

He also suggested abolishing Perkins loans, the low-interest, federally guaranteed loans that colleges make from revolving funds. The savings would go to increasing supplemental grants available only to the neediest students. And Ford spoke favorably of a Bush administration proposal to have the federal government replace private banks as the source of $12 billion in Stafford loans, which are federally guaranteed and subsidized. Those loans, once called Guaranteed Student Loans, constitute the largest aid program.

"What I'm trying to do is provoke the higher education community into doing a little bit different kind of thinking than they have been doing," Ford explained in an interview. "Education policy for the last decade has not been driven by sound educational considerations. It's been driven by the budget process."

Ford said the five-year budget agreement made last year "left some room for us for expansion" of student aid, and he expects the Bush administration "will be easier to negotiate increases with than their predecessors." He declined to speculate on the amount of any increases.

The time is right for major changes in student aid programs, he said, partly because the administration appears interested in doing something that would seal President Bush's reputation as "education president."

He cited the "radical proposal" that administration officials have floated for direct federal lending of Stafford loans, which would make unnecessary the current role of banks, loan guarantee agencies and secondary markets such as the Student Loan Marketing Association. The plan also might save an estimated $1 billion in fees paid to banks and other private lenders.

Initially skeptical of the idea, Ford said he has grown to feel direct lending "might not be a bad idea, especially if it would pick us up a billion dollars a year to buy more education" rather than to reduce the budget deficit.

As open to new ideas as Ford describes himself, there is one favored by some college representatives that he did not mention in his speech and that he dismissed when asked his opinion. "Absolutely outrageous," he said of the idea of separate aid programs for proprietary trade school students, who are responsible for a disproportionate share of loan defaults.

Ford grew passionate on this subject, calling himself a "blue-collar kid" who spent a year of his youth in a Michigan automotive trade school before going to college and law school with help from the GI Bill. As a House member, he said, in the 1970s he helped make more students at trade schools eligible for federal aid by deleting the requirement that participating institutions be nonprofit.

"A lot of people miss the brass ring the first time around. They don't graduate from high school," he said. "The existing high school is not adequate to get them a good job, and trade schools do fill that void."

He condemned as "ivory tower thinkers" those educators who have proposed separate trade school programs. "If we say that one kind of student is more worthy than another, then we will have a federal policy of class structure in postsecondary education that I am absolutely never going to support," he said.

One class fight that Ford would like to avoid is over how narrowly federal aid ought to be targeted to the poor. Some researchers, notably Tom Mortenson of the American College Testing program, have argued that federal aid programs have done little to increase the access of the poor to college because too much aid has gone to the lower middle class.

"I don't want to get into this game of playing the poor off the middle class," he said. "Helping poor people and helping working-class people are not mutually exclusive. Having a program that will grow {means it} has to be as inclusive as possible, or you'll have no support for it."

Ford said he expects to begin hearings on the Higher Education Act in May after an extensive review of proposals from education groups and the administration.

On two other issues that his committee will handle, Ford said:

Education vouchers of the kind Bush plans to propose sound "like a back-door tuition tax credit attempt. . . . It's divisive. It's probably unconstitutional." More generally, Ford faulted open enrollment plans, which Bush promotes, as administratively unworkable and educationally worthless.

His version of the civil rights bill that Bush vetoed last year will include a "glass ceiling" provision on women in the workplace that will resemble a proposal by Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). Ford aides said other "women's equity" provisions may be included in the legislation, which Bush rejected because he said it would create racial quotas.