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Financial Aid Hearings Highlight Non-Traditional Student Access

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April 23, 2013

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Financial Aid Hearings Highlight Non-Traditional Student Access

Both the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held hearings last week to address the rising costs of college and student loan debt incurred by students.

The Senate HELP hearing was the fourth and last in a series of college affordability hearings that has included topics on college cost transparency, state higher education funding issues and promising practices in financial aid. The final hearing focused on financial aid from the student’s perspective and included testimony from current college students, as well as experts in the field.

The House hearing also included student testimony, but the focus of the house took a decidedly different approach. Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) opened the hearing by questioning whether “the federal government should maintain its traditional focus on improving access to higher education, or should move toward a system that ties federal aid to student outcomes, job placement, or graduation rates.”

In the past, most discussion of federal student aid has focused on such issues as the skyrocketing cost of college, student loan interest rates and repayment of those loans. In a twist during these hearings, there was a larger emphasis on non-traditional students having trouble accessing student aid. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) expressed concern that students seeking industry-recognized credentials in programs lasting less than one year or who are only able to take a limited number of classes at a time are unable to access the financial aid that is available to the “traditional” student.

In addition to Senator Baldwin’s concern, during the House hearing, witness Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, testified that about 15% of the total current student population meets the definition of a “traditional” student, meaning one who attends school full-time and is support by a parental figure. The remaining “non-traditional” students, such as those who are working toward a certification or license, are losing out on access to aid because the system was not originally designed for them.

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