Bobby Scott visits Hampton to explain how he wants to make college more affordable
There’s something about FAFSA — that particularly nosy form that students and parents fill out in order to get financial aid for college — that can get in the way of young people actually making it to and through college.
And Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, says he plans to do something about it.
Scott held a town hall meeting at Hampton University Friday with students and college administrators from across Hampton Roads to outline what he’s thinking about for the higher education re-authorization bill he plans to file later this month.
There’s no guarantee the legislation will become law, but it has a good chance to at least pass the House: Now that Democrats control the chamber, Scott chairs the powerful Committee on Education and Labor.
And for students like HU’s Bruce Wilson, who told Scott he was frustrated filling out — yet once more — that difficult to use Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, Scott had the good news that he expects the bill will simplify the form.
The legislation would also allow students to skip the annual headache of dealing with it by allowing them to simply certify that their financial situation had not changed, Scott said.
Scott said the bill will also simplify the complex web of payment plans for student debt that trip up so many students and young people starting off on their careers.
One big problem is the failure of Congress’ decade-old effort to offer loan forgiveness to graduates who opt for the lower salaries that teachers and other public service workers accept, if those graduates stay in those jobs for 10 years and keep up with loan payments during that time.
Scott said 99% of graduates who thought they were eligible for loan forgiveness have been shocked this year to discover that paperwork glitches and inaccurate information at the time they signed up for their payment plans disqualified them.
“You have a better chance of winning the lottery,” he said. “If 99% of people get forgiveness and you don’t because you didn’t do the paperwork right, that’s your problem. If 99% are denied, that’s our problem.”
Both FAFSA and payment plan streamlining will have a big impact on helping students stay in school and earn the credentials that open doors to careers that offer good pay, town hall participants said.
“Simplification will do wonders,” said Vera Riddick, a financial aid official from Old Dominion University.
Scott said the bill will also propose a significant rise in Pell grants — the exact bump is still under negotiation with his counterparts on the House Ways and Means Committee.
When introduced in 1965, Pell grants covered about three quarters of the cost of attending a typical state university, but now they cover less than a third, Scott said.
He said later it is unlikely the increase will get students back to where they were in 1965, but that he expected the rise to be significant.
The bill will also include an automatic inflation adjustment for Pell grants, he said. Eventually, the initial bump and the inflation adjustment will get the program back to where it was in 1965, he hopes.
Scott said he also expects the reauthorization bill will cut fees for student loans and allow refinancing to take advantage of interest rate declines. He also plans to boost accountability, particularly in the case of for-profit colleges that don’t deliver quality programs.