Financial Aid Experts Discuss Pell Grants and College Access at NASFAA Forum

Contact: Haley Chitty
Director of Communications
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National thought-leaders in higher education policy discuss strategies for increasing college access and success 

Washington, DC, Jan. 18, 2012 --  Student financial aid experts discussed the importance (and limitations) of the Federal Pell Grant program in increasing college access  at a forum held Jan. 18 at the U.S. Capitol and hosted by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). The program and surrounding policy debate were reinforced by the publication of a NASFAA-penned issue brief highlighting the historical role of access in the student aid programs and how perceptions of the value and importance of access are shifting.  Presenters explored the challenges and opportunities America faces as we work to increase college access and successful completion.

The event kicked off with a welcome and update from Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and former campus financial aid administrator. Given the tough budget cutting debates that took place for FY2012, Bishop stressed how fortunate the country was that Congress was able to maintain the $5,550 maximum Pell Grant. He also emphasized the importance of investing in higher education to ensure America can compete in the global economy of the future.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger also noted, "It's vital that we discuss the future of the Pell Grant program and other college access programs before we have another funding crisis like we had this year."

Dr. David Feldman, chair of Economics Department at the College of William and Mary, began the first panel by dispelling the common misconception that student aid subsidies drive up the cost of college. He also showed how students, families and the federal government are paying a greater share of the cost of college as states continue to cut higher education spending.

Dr. Sandy Baum, an independent policy analyst and consultant, highlighted the recent, rapid growth of the federal Pell Grant Program, noting, "We can't simply keep asking Congress for more and more money for Pell Grants. Given the rapid growth of the program, we need more effective arguments."

Dr. Laura Perna, professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, stressed that need-based grants like Pell are necessary tools for increasing college access, but can't increase access alone, because of the many other factors also at play.

According to Dr. Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, three primary factors contribute to college access: 1.) financial resources 2.) academic preparation 3.) sociocultural factors that can determine college aspiration.

The second panel, moderated by Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, discussed programs and practices that address these three factors and contribute to college access.

Joan Zanders, director of financial aid at Northern Virginia Community College, stressed the importance of providing additional support to at-risk students in addition to need-based grants.  Kya Dixon, college programs officer at College Success Foundation-District of Columbia, talked about the basic challenges certain student populations face when trying to access college. Tally Hart, senior advisor for economic access at Ohio State University, highlighted the importance of creating early financial aid and college awareness for student populations that are historically underrepresented in higher education.

Detailed session descriptions, slide show presentations and biographical information about the presenters are all available on NASFAA's Forum webpage.

Check out photos from the event >> 


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents nearly 20,000 financial aid professionals at 2,800 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. Each year, financial aid professionals help more than 16 million students receive funding for post secondary education. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aidlegislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators.