Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 ‘fails to address’ many student needs

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Varsha Sarveshwar, the president of the UC Student Association, and Connor Strobel, the president of the UC Graduate and Professional Council, criticized the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 for failing to address many student priorities in a joint statement released Tuesday.

The Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 is a national package of bills that reforms the Pell Grant, FAFSA and many other aspects of the student financial aid system. The act is bipartisan with authors from both the Republican and Democratic parties, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

The act has many provisions, but the largest includes simplifying FAFSA from 108 questions to 17-30, establishing $255 million of permanent funding for historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and creating a student unit record system to help students and families compare how students performed at specific colleges and universities.

In their joint statement, Sarveshwar and Strobel said these provisions do not go far enough.

“The bill … fails to address the total cost of a college education and the over $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, and lacks support for the student’s basic needs,” according to the statement.

It is for this reason that Sarveshwar and Strobel want Congress to reject the act and work on a comprehensive plan.

Strobel said he thinks some provisions in the bill are “low-hanging fruit,” while others are taking “a few steps in the right direction.” Regarding one provision that increases the Pell Grant maximum, however, Strobel described it as “a slap in the face” because it increases the Pell Grant by only $20. Strobel said his wish is for Congress to address issues such as student loan debt and student homelessness instead of changes that he thinks are “negligible.”

Strobel also noted that there is room to improve the bill and said student activists can be involved in the legislative process by pushing Congress to “support the right bills.”

Shawn Brick, the interim director of Student Financial Support at the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, echoed Strobel’s sentiment and added that UCOP will play an active role in creating legislation that benefits the UC system.

“We will continue to engage with committees in both chambers to further UC’s Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization priorities,” Brick said in an email. “Strengthening programs established in the HEA will allow the university to continue to thrive and serve as a social mobility and economic engine for California and the nation.”

According to a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions press release, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, is focusing on the importance of establishing a permanent funding stream for HBCUs, as the House must find temporary funding for these colleges every two years. According to Alexander, the bill may be a solution for Congress to establish permanent funding.

Alexander also responded to concerns, such as to Strobel’s, that the bill is not sweeping or ambitious enough.

“I am committed to continuing to work … to develop a larger, more comprehensive bipartisan bill,” Alexander said in the press release. “But right now, we have an opportunity to enact a package including several of the bipartisan proposals that have come from our process.”

The senator has not said what this larger and more comprehensive bill will contain, however, as of press time.

Contact Robson Swift at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.