For many months, the community college sector has followed the trail of two increasingly important acronyms: AGI and SAFRA. The proposed American Graduation Initiative (AGI) has been the umbrella for President Obama’s call for a nationwide commitment to increase the college attainment level of the U.S. population. Citing the critical need for increased college completion if the United States is to remain economically competitive, President Obama put a particular emphasis on the role of community colleges, asking for five million additional associate degree holders by the year 2020.
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) was the proposed vehicle to help community colleges deliver those five million graduates, outlining structural changes in the student loan industry that would yield new dollars in support of Pell grants, college completion initiatives, facilities construction and renewal, and distance learning. Our College which has been one of many supporting this important legislation.
The Congressional debate on health care reform delayed progress on SAFRA and AGI; and the final compromise, which shepherded health care and student loan reform through together, did not produce all that the president had sought for community colleges. As the dust continues to clear, however, we can see some of the immediate effects of the final legislation on our College and our students.
The student aid legislation will move federal student loans to a Direct Loan program in which the loan process will now proceed directly from the federal government through colleges and universities to the student. No longer will banks and other entities originate federal student loans. Our College, which has already piloted this change, will move fully to the new model as of July 1, 2010.
The dollar savings generated by the new direct lending model (dollars formerly paid as fees to the banks) will support at least three focus areas in higher education that will benefit our students. First, $36 billion will be directed in the next decade toward sustaining Pell grants, a critical component for our students. The maximum Pell Grant award will remain constant for two years. It will then increase by the rate of inflation in each of the next five years. While this will not increase Pell at as great a rate as originally proposed, it will help Congress avoid making substantial cuts in the Pell Grant maximum in future years.
A second area of future support lies in the Community College and Career Training Grant Program, an initiative created in previous legislation, but never funded. SAFRA allots $2 billion to this program—$500 million per year for four years—to fund education and training programs that will produce more job-ready employees. Our College will be very active in competing for this opportunity.
Finally, additional monies directed toward Predominantly Black Institutions, a grant category that is the source of funding for our new Center for Male Engagement, and College Access Challenge Grants, which are completely aligned with our student success agenda, will provide further opportunities to generate new support for our students.While the final AGI/SAFRA legislation did not reach the heights of the original proposal for community colleges, we need to take advantage of these new expanded resources in innovative and deliberate ways.