Student Aid & the Middle Class

For the first time ever, the largest source of debt for Americans last year was not credit cards, but student loans.

Now a state advisory committee formed by the Governor is working on proposals to make higher education less costly for Virginia students.  One method is through student aid and similar programs, which officials worry could be more complicated  than it sounds.

The law now requires plans for need-based financial aid for low- and middle-income students.  Federal poverty measures define low-income.  But the panel said middle class is harder to define—and it plans to propose models that go beyond income to show actual need.  They also use factors such as the number of college students or disabled siblings in the family, or whether parents are older.  Work-study programs are another form of aid.

Secretary of Education Laura Fornash said research shows these students earn higher grades–but they’re underfunded. “The federal government provides a work-study program and each institution has a certain allocation of those resources.  And I think what you heard today was interest from the presidents of the public institutions, and I think the privates would agree, that more resources in that area really is a more meaningful way to help students with their need,” she says.

Some colleges use tuition to fund aid.  But lawmakers say their constituents object to that while they struggle to pay tuition—only to see their dollars given to others.

— by Anne Marie Morgan

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