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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perkins Loan Hearing

As we explain in our chapter on Congress, hearings are part of the deliberative process on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on the Perkins Loan Program for students:

“The real message here is, we need to save it,” said Cynthia A. Littlefield, director of federal relations at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. If it’s expanded, Congress can focus on “redefining a new Perkins Loan program,” she said.

Perkins funds pass through a “revolving account” of college and government money when students repay their loans, or have the loans cancelled (or forgiven) because they take certain public service jobs. Then, the college awards the money to another student. The Perkins Loan Extension Act of 2010 would give colleges an extra year -- until Oct. 1, 2013 – before they have to start returning the federal funds they have received and recycled into new student loans. (The original termination date was set when the Higher Education Act was reauthorized in 2008.)

Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, testified Wednesday that despite its comparatively small distribution -- the university awards $1.5 million in Perkins funds, compared to $90 million in Stafford loans and $30 million in Pell Grants -- the program is “the David among the Goliaths of other aid.”


The hearing of the House Committee on the Budget was sparsely attended, as people made their way in and out throughout, but a couple of representatives did declare their support for extending Perkins. Some are pushing not only for the extension, but for a more permanent solution to funding the program.


A Georgetown University senior, Joseph Hill, testified that Perkins “without a doubt” allowed him to attend his dream institution. The son of an overworked mother and a father with a neuromuscular disease (both of whom attended the hearing), he received $26,000 in Georgetown scholarships but still didn’t think his family would be able to afford the education.

“And then, there was a Perkins loan, which helped my parents fill that gap,” Hill testified. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan.’ ”