Higher-education coalition lobbies Congress to reject Bush’s plan to cut Perkins Loan program

The need-based Perkins Loans do not require student or family borrowers to have established credit histories.

by Cati Vanden Breul

A higher-education coalition the University is a member of has started a campaign to save the Federal Perkins Loan Program from elimination.

In his 2006 federal budget request, President George W. Bush proposed the elimination of the Perkins Loan Program to help fund an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 per student during the next five years.

Perkins Loans are need-based and have a fixed interest rate. They do not require student or family borrowers to have established credit histories.

The Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations, a group with more than 300 educational and commercial members, is lobbying Congress to reject Bush’s proposal.

“The approach we have taken is really a grassroots approach,” said Alisa Abadinsky, coalition president and associate director of student financial services and cashiering operations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The group, which promotes access to college, is encouraging colleges and students to contact their legislative representatives and let them know they want the Perkins Loan Program to stay, Abadinsky said.

She said this is the first year the president’s proposed budget has not included funding for the loan program.

“In terms of proposals that we have seen, there is nothing to replace the Perkins Loan Program,” Abadinsky said.

An increase in the Pell Grant award will not make up for cutting Perkins Loans, she said.

“Replacing a $2,000 loan with a grant increase of $100 a year is still going to leave students with $1,900 to come up with,” she said.

University junior Nick Morrison said the ability to lobby is essential in a democracy.

“I would like to think it’s an effective measure, because it’s the only way citizens can really interact with their representatives,” Morrison said.

When large groups of people get together and approach Congress, they can get things done, he said.

“I approve of the effort by students and faculty,” Morrison said.

The economics student said he is in favor of keeping the Perkins Loan Program.

“I don’t see why the government would want to cut a loan program when they will get the money back eventually,” he said.

The effectiveness of a lobbying organization depends on a variety of factors, said Kent Ortner, president of Students Against Political Ignorance.

“An effective coalition has the money, the materials, the ability to travel and get access, and has experienced people with connections,” Ortner said.

The higher-education coalition should be powerful, because it is made up of universities that know how to lobby and the rules of lobbying, he said.

“A large coalition is a good way to lobby,” Ortner said.

Abadinsky said Congress usually votes on the president’s budget request in the fall.