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Demanding dollars from dropouts

IF YOU'RE not going to stay in school, I don't want to fund your college education -- not on my tax dollar, that is.

Each year, thousands of dollars of federal financial aid grant money are wasted by students who drop out of school. These students must pay back a portion of their financial aid, but not always a sum comparable to the time spent not enrolled in classes. A college education may be easier to come by these days, but the government needs to hold unenrolled students accountable for the money the government has given them for the sole purpose of earning a college degree. Thousands of dollars should not be wasted on those who are not serious about being in school to stay there are learn.

A recent change in the Higher Education Act will serve to curb the problem of wasted college grants. But the amendment to this debated piece of legislation has met with a bevy of criticism. According to the Act, any student who receives aid from a Title IV program such as a Pell or Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant or Federal Direct Student Loans will have to pay back to the government any unused money if he or she withdraws from all classes.

This differs from the original provision in the Act in that it only requires students to pay back the money that they did not use based on how long they did attend classes. If a student were enrolled in classes for 50 days of a 100-day term, that student would have to return 50 percent of his aid to the government. Before, students had to return a percentage of their aid based on the amount of aid they qualified for, rather than based on their time in school.

Many American kids are fortunate to have parents who are able to fund their higher education completely. But sadly, there is an ever-growing number of students who cannot pay the rising costs of college tuition. That is where federal aid serves a great purpose. It gives bright young students the opportunity to take part in a level of education that in the past was reserved for the wealthy. Today's students are being told that college is the only path to success in life, and each year, more and more students apply to college and apply for federal financial aid.

It would be nice to think that each student given the chance to go to college by way of federal grants would use the money to get the most out of the college experience. Unfortunately, there are those students who fail to concentrate on what is really important -- academics.

There are hardworking students who must leave school for health reasons, family problems or even because they realized they were not yet ready for college level work. The amended Act would benefit these cases by not requiring them to repay the total amount of tuition, but only the part they did not use. According to the Act, these students will be able to reapply for financial aid if they want to return to school.

But there are cases where less academically oriented students fail or withdraw from their classes, even completely dropping out, while those who were not lucky enough to receive financial aid work their way through school or do not attend at all. This just isn't fair. Federal aid should be available to all, but only those who show dedication and maturity when it comes to learning should be able to keep it.

The new provision in the Act will minimize misuse of federal financial aid. Students who no longer were enrolled in classes would repay that money and give other students a chance to make the most of a college grant. In addition to government funding, these grant and loan programs would, in theory, put all unused money toward helping dedicated students make it through college and get degrees.

Most important, though, is that this amendment to the Act is teaching young adults a valuable lesson -- that money doesn't grow on trees. By allowing these students to take no responsibility for the wasted money they have been given for education, the government would be teaching its youth an overall poor respect for money. Recent studies have shown that college students, as a group, have problems with credit card and other forms of debt, possibly because they have never been taught how to respect and value money. Students should be aware that, while their college education is being financed by the government, it is by no means free.

By requiring these students to repay money for education they did not receive, the government will be sending a message to students not to take higher education for granted. Each year more and more young people attend colleges and universities, but higher education still is a luxury that costs a pretty penny. This provision has the ability to keep kids in school and will be a constant reminder to students to value the opportunity they have been given through federal aid. Dropping out of school will be much harder once a student realizes they will have thousands of dollars to pay back to the government.

College is a time like no other in the life of a young student. It is a time of fun, but also a time to learn true responsibility. What better way to learn than making students accountable for making the most of their federal financial aid and your tax dollars?

(Erin Perucci is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)


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