Frustration with the Feds

In a tough budgetary environment for federal financial aid, with even the bedrock Pell Grant Program on the chopping block, anxiety is omnipresent at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ annual convention, beginning with the conference’s name: "Uniting for Financial Aid’s Future."

But there is another emotion as well: frustration. In sessions on diverse topics here Sunday and Monday, the college administrators who have assembled to talk loans, grants and legislation said they are fed up with a regulatory environment that seems perpetually in flux, from the recent gainful employment and program integrity rules to plans announced in May for another round of rule making on the direct lending program.

In a few cases, Education Department officials turned the frustration back on college officials. The financial aid administrators accused the federal government of asking for input after the fact, when rules have already been decided; department officials said they have tried to work with higher education administrators to find solutions that work, but that no rule will ever please everyone.

The tensions were most apparent at an open forum with Education Department officials Monday, where those attending applauded administrators who spoke up about their complaints. But they have run throughout the conference, which follows a year of nearly constant change for federal financial aid programs.

Most notable, of course, was the shift from a mix of bank-based and government lending to 100 percent government lending last summer, which changed the way the majority of student loans were issued. But the past year has also brought the end of the summer Pell Grant, the controversial rules on program integrity and the fight over the “gainful employment” regulation.

Many new regulations will take effect in the coming months, including new measures of default rates and the hefty disclosure requirements for institutions that sponsor vocational programs subject to the gainful employment regulations.

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