News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


State needs need-based college aid

By Danny K. Patterson

Alabama lawmakers will return to Montgomery in less than a month to begin a 15-week legislative session. One major issue that they will address is education funding — a fair and equitable allocation of limited resources.

ACHE's Unified Budget Recommendation, asking for an 11 percent increase to fund higher education, has been sent to the governor for his consideration in compiling the 2005-06 fiscal year budget. A part of that budget that has seen a major decline in recent years involves need-based financial aid.

The Alabama Student Assistance program is funded by both the state and the federal Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, which provides funds to the state to help assist those students who demonstrate substantial financial need. The program is administered by the state but funded by a one-to-one match with federal dollars. It is the state's only need-based student-aid program for residents attending postsecondary education institutions in Alabama.

Surely, this is not borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. It is left up to the student as to the institution he or she will attend, whether private or public.

During 2003-04, 2,697 awards were given at an average of $398 per student for a total distribution of $1,072,561. The state failed to appropriate in 2004 the required maintenance of effort necessary to qualify for federal funds.

However, Alabama can qualify for the federal match if the Legislature will appropriate an additional $2.7 million in the upcoming budget.

Try going to college on $398. Students who qualify for this assistance to attend Alabama's institutions need more help than they're getting from Alabama's Student Assistance Program.

I urge Alabama lawmakers to look long and hard at this program and appropriate the revenue to give more deserving students a shot at a brighter future.

Danny K. Patterson is chairman of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

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