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Students speak out about new college aid bill

The House of Representatives passed the Student Aid Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) on September 18, leaving the bill’s fate now in the hands of the Senate, until they vote on their own version later this month.

The purpose of the bill is to help students better afford college and increase the number of students who graduate. The bill will bring an end to private banks lending money through the Family Federal Education Loan Program, and use only some of those savings for higher education.

The bill will also include the provision of $40 billion dollars over a 10 year period which would increase the Pell Grant, a grant sponsored by the Department of Education designed primarily to award financial aid to low-income students, to $5,550 from $4,050, for the maximum grant. 

In addition, $10 billion will be given to students attending community college. The purpose of this is to support President Barack Obama’s American Graduation Initiative to produce five million more two-year college graduates by 2020.

In response to this portion of the bill, students had very different opinions.

Freshman Elise Conde, who is undeclared, believes that bolstering community colleges is an important step in making college affordable.

“Giving money to community colleges is extremely helpful since there are thousands of people who cannot afford it,” said Conde.

Kristi Mancini, a freshman majoring in political science agreed with Conde. “It is a great idea because many students have to drop out of school early because of money issues. Also, increasing the number of graduates may help the economy as well, since many brilliant minds will now have a degree in their hand.” 

Freshman political science major David Bettencourt feels differently.

“I think $40 billion dollars isn’t a lot of money when you consider the number of students attending college now and those who will be attending later,” said Bettencourt.

The bill will also include spending eight billion dollars over a 10 year period to improve early childhood education.

The bill includes spending $4.1 billion dollars to modernize and repair school and college facilities including those damaged in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Freshman political science major Katie Duggan said that repairing campuses is something that should have been taken care of in the past.

“Repairing the schools is a great idea, especially those that were affected by Hurricane Katrina, this is something Bush should have funded soon after the hurricane hit,” she said.  

The last two points included in the bill are making the interest rates variable in 2012, when the rate goes up to 6.8 percent on the federal student loan program, and simplifying the federal financial aid form.

Freshman political science major Chris Mansi did not approve the interest rate change.

“I do not care for variable interest,” he said. “I would rather have a locked interest rate, because if the interest rate unexpectedly rose higher than someone can afford to pay off, it may cause them to default on their loans.

“If this was to occur, it would only further hurt the economy when we can’t take that much more injury at this point in time. I think we need to focus more on regulating the banking system instead.”

In regard to the federal aid form being simplified, everyone agreed that it is a great idea, as they all disliked the process of filling out the form this past year.

Overall, students tended to believe there are more pros than cons to this bill.

Freshman Adam Karp, who is majoring in social thought and political economy said, “the bill is great, but I feel like it lacks the information we all want to hear. ‘How much will the average student be helped by this bill?’”

 Jessica Jankowski is a Collegian staff member and can be reached at jjankows@student.umass.edu.

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