Candidates discuss financial aid reform

By Acton Gorton

Even after taking out Pell Grants, Federal Direct Loans and private loans, Humair Sabir, junior in business, is still having trouble making ends meet.

He budgets himself so tightly that he is forced to find cheap alternatives for having fun. He saves just enough to go to the movies every now and then. As a permanent U.S. resident, Sabir is fully entitled to all financial aid benefits. However, his parents live in Pakistan and can’t afford to pay his Expected Family Contribution, so he borrows money from his brother.

Students like Sabir have encouraged Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois running on the Democrat ticket, to call for financial aid reform by increasing Pell Grant Awards and restructuring the current loan system.

Orlo Austin, director of the University’s office of financial aid, said between 5,000 and 6,000 University students, including Sabir, are considered in the low income bracket for financial aid.

Obama’s campaign press release stated that since 2001, four-year public institution tuition and fees have increased 35 percent. An estimated four million students will be unable to attend a four-year university over the next decade.

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“With the maximum Pell Grant at $4,500, our students are receiving less than the maximum grant nearly 30 years ago. I will fight to increase the number of available Pell Grants and to raise the maximum grant to $5,100,” Obama said in the press release.

Don Proft, spokesman for Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes’s campaign, disagrees with Obama’s plan.

“It’s disingenuous for Obama on one hand to increase the Pell Grant cap by $600 when he is promoting and supporting tax increases on families,” he said. “That means thousands of dollars less take home pay in the course of the 18-year ramp up for their children’s college education.”

Sabir said he supports Obama’s reform plan given his own circumstances.

“The students right now need the money … later when we’re making thousands of dollars, we can give back,” he said.

Obama proposes paying for the government-controlled loan program by requiring all private student financial aid loans to be administered instead through Federal Direct Lending, which he said would prevent companies from taking advantage of a loophole that pays excessive subsidies to banks and other private lenders.

“Billions of dollars in unnecessary government payments are being made to the companies who are giving millions of dollars to our lawmakers in Washington,” Obama said in his press release.

Proft said more government control means private investment is crowded out, resulting in less consumer choice.

“Keyes looks at a comprehensive approach by encouraging people to work and save, providing an incentive to do so and providing them the resources to empower them, rather than empowering the government bureaucracy,” Proft said.

Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Daschle (D- N.D.), said Democrats support Obama’s proposal.

“Senator Daschle has spoken out regarding the need to improve financial aid and wants to make it possible for students to go to school,” she said. “He is disappointed by President Bush’s administration for slashing financial aid.”

Sharon Castillo, spokeswoman for the Bush/Cheney campaign, said under the President’s 2005 budget, student aid would increase by $73 billion and the Pell Grants funding will be increased.

Despite the partisan politics, Sabir remains optimistic.

“Both sides are going to come up with great arguments about how we can better the lives of citizens,” he said.