The holidays are over, winter is settling in, and college students are getting set to return to campus. Parents of high school seniors are anxiously beginning the process of completing the FAFSA for the very first time. You may not have noticed that the President has returned to Washington after a holiday break and a Republican Congress is also back in session. The balance of power in Congress has shifted, and college students everywhere are wondering what kind of impact this change might have on their college financial aid. Here are a few ways you could be affected:
• Compromise Will Still Be Tough: Although the Republicans do hold a majority, it is not veto-proof, so there is still likely to be some political maneuvering between the two parties. If the parties cannot learn to compromise, this could have a big impact on any changes to federal college financial aid.
• Sequestration Is Still an Issue: Remember all the fuss about sequestration some time back? Well, those federally mandated budget cuts are still having repercussions and may affect financial aid funding levels. Particularly at risk is the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which may expire in September without further Congressional action. The loss of this program could deeply impact the ability of students with extreme financial hardship to attend college.
• Education May Not be a Top Priority: Although students and their parents know how important a college education is, officials in Washington may not have it at the top of their action list for 2015. They may still be feuding about the Affordable Care Act or the Keystone Pipeline, while renewing the Higher Education Act gets pushed farther down the priority list.
• Financial Aid May Actually Get Easier: The financial aid process has caused consternation for years, and there is a movement afoot to make it simpler. There is some talk of streamlining the FAFSA, along with simplifying the number of aid programs.
Meanwhile the Education Department, which oversees the implementation of federal financial aid programs, also has plans for implementing certain regulations in 2015. Their attention may be focused on a teacher-preparation regulation, student loan repayment, student debit cards, distance education, and the gainful-employment rule. This relates to President Obama’s college ratings plan, which he intended to have finalized by the fall. Of course, just because the Education Department will be working on these rules doesn’t mean they will all pass Congress. There may still be a lot of negotiation on all fronts in the future.
Change is unsettling, but that is the benefit of living in a democracy. You have the opportunity to decide what is important to you and inform legislators of your priorities. Make sure you communicate with your representatives in Congress and the Senate, and tell them how important federal college financial aid is to your family and your future. If cuts are made to these programs, we will only have ourselves to blame for not making our opinions heard.