The federal government is making it easier for more people to go to college, but it remains to be seen whether Idaho and other states can handle the expected enrollment boom in a few years.
President Clinton is expected to sign historic legislation to balance the federal budget by 2002. It includes scholarships, tax credits and deductions making it easier for middle-income students to pay for college and graduate students to continue their education.
Separate legislation moving through Congress will also increase the maximum award for Pell Grant winners. The tax credits and deductions add up to about $40 million during the next five years.
“One of the greatest parts of this is the intent being shown by Congress and the administration, to support the financial needs of students trying to attain a higher education,” said Dan Davenport, University of Idaho director of financial aid and admissions.
“Instead of sitting around and saying, ‘Yeah, good idea, let’s do something with tuition for higher education,’ then not doing anything, they’re actually doing some things.”
He said the university provided $47 million in financial aid during the 1995-96 school year. About 5,600 students at Idaho receive an average of $4,800 of some kind of financial aid each year.
The 2,800 Pell grant recipients there, with a maximum award for this year set at $2,700, could get a boost of $300.
While Davenport thinks it is positive for students, he doubts it is a cure-all for those having a tough time paying for college.
“The Hope scholarship, for students from low-income families, won’t necessarily help that much,” Davenport said. “It will be able to help students from middle-income families where it’s a struggle to pay for school.
“Obviously $1,500, or $300 in Pell, isn’t going to solve everyone’s problem financially. But any time we can put money into assisting students afford higher education, we gain higher education students who can now afford to attend who couldn’t before.”
People paying for loans will be allowed a deduction for up to $2,500 per year on education loans. The maximum deduction the first year is $1,000, increasing by $500 each year until reaching $2,500.
One downside is, without raising the cost or limiting the availability of student loans, Congress will still cut $1.8 billion from the federal student loan program. Davenport is concerned students will lose some services, and it will put stress on university staff.
If the number of students increases dramatically due to the tax changes, states like Idaho could find their universities asking for more money to serve increased enrollments.
“More students at UI helps to bring more money to the institution, and the community as well,” Davenport said. “But too many additional in-state students, where the taxpayers pay for most of the costs instead of the students, it could become a problem.”
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