In the omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump this week were several measures aimed at helping marginalized students as well as historically black colleges and universities.

Congress simplified the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, expanded the Pell Grant program, and wiped out federal loans that black colleges and universities traditionally took on to pay for upgrades and repairs. More than 40 HBCUs owe more than $ 1 billion borrowed as part of a program to finance improvements.

Howard University is not part of this program, but the president Wayne AI Frédéric said the schools that participated in paying down the debt in their programming.

“The cancellation of this debt means that it can have a very big impact on the HBCUs that participate in the program,” he says.

The bill also simplified the FAFSA, removing dozens of questions and making it easier for students to apply for help. The app has been “problematic” for minority and low-income students, says Frederick.

The current form requires students to provide information on both parents, he says, for example, which is difficult and frustrating for some people. When trying to start school, these students may find that their financial aid program has not been formalized because the expected family contribution has not been determined, he says.

“[FAFSA] was a big hurdle, ”he says. “And so simplifying this form was also a very, very important move, in my opinion.”

Changes have also been made to the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income students avoid loans when they head to college. This money does not have to be repaid, but experts have criticized the way the amount given in the Pell Grants is calculated. This new legislation ties it to federal poverty guidelines so students know in advance how much they could potentially get.

Frederick says he hopes the changes to the Pell Scholarship and FAFSA will encourage low-income students to pursue higher education, but there is still a lack of information on these programs.

Almost $ 2.6 billion Silver Pell Grant was not claimed in the 2018-19 school year, according to Forbes. Without receiving information and encouragement to apply to federal programs, many students fail to complete their FAFSA and therefore do not attend college, he says.

“These tips are also very important,” he says. “And so I’m still worried that while it’s useful, it doesn’t reach the people who benefit the most in terms of information and education about it.”

If the amount of Pell scholarships available each year does not increase in line with the rising costs of higher education, more students could end up take out loans, says Frédéric.

A crisis facing colleges and universities is the decline in the number of high school graduates enroll in colleges. And fewer international students are pursuing higher education in the United States, which lowers income, he says.

Frederick says he fears these issues will cause “a big squeeze for low-income students,” increasing the number of loans they take out over the next five years.

Another important change to the Pell Grant program is the lifting of a 26-year ban that makes incarcerated people ineligible to receive the grants. Recidivism is a key issue, he says, and helping formerly incarcerated people find gainful employment is “critical”.

“There are now a lot of prison systems that have higher education components through community colleges and the like,” he says. “And I think it’s extremely important that we continue to provide this opportunity. And this access to Pell Grant is definitely a way to expand that.

Alexander Türk produced and edited this story for dissemination with Jill ryan. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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