Expert: Paul's plan to eliminate Department of Education could hit student aid


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Receiving financial aid could become a bigger challenge for college students if Iowa caucus candidate Ron Paul is elected.

Paul's deficit-reduction plan released this week, would cut $1 trillion from the deficit by eliminating the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, and Education during the first year of his presidency.

And experts say eliminating the U.S. Department of Education could significantly affect the way college students receive loans, grants, and access to postsecondary institutions.

Paul's plan makes no mention of what would happen to such programs as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the Clery Act, among others.

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of the FinAid and Fastweb websites, said there would be a net decline in support for higher education without the federal government administering these programs.

"These loan programs need to be managed, and there needs to be contractors," Kantrowitz said. "You really couldn't split up the existing loans unless you were to send them off to the state agencies."

Kantrowitz said eliminating the Department of Education would be "nothing short of a disaster" in terms of postsecondary completion rates.

"Students would find it much harder to find an affordable education," Kantrowitz said. "If you had the means to afford college, you'd be able to go."

University of Iowa Dean of Education Margaret Crocco agreed.

"If the Department of Education were to end tomorrow, all of those programs would end," Crocco said. "That would have a profound effect not just on higher ed, but also on K-12 programs. It would make a big difference."

Paul's plan claims eliminating the Education Department would save roughly $290 billion over the next four years. The 2011 budget for the department is roughly $71 billion.

"Many people believe we have a problem with the budget, so they're looking for ways to trim the cost," Crocco said. "Students who also have that concern might like Paul's idea. Students who have taken out loans through the federal government wouldn't be in favor of this."

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, is critical about Paul's plan excluding the future of federal student-aid programs.

"Proposals like that are more posturing than substance, until he's willing to talk in detail about what programs he wants to continue or eliminate," Quirmbach said. "Reorganizing the bureaucratic chart is a fairly pointless action unless you're willing to say what you want that entity to do."

But Paul is not the first politician to suggest abolishing the department, as several former presidents and presidential candidates have suggested eliminating the department since it was formed in 1979.

The Republican Party supported the abolition of the department throughout the 1980s. Former President Ronald Reagan attempted to eliminate it but that move was blocked by a Democratic House of Representatives.

In more recent years, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and the Republican Liberty Caucus both made promises to abolish the department.

Crocco said it's likely this proposal will fail like those that came before it.

"Even if he were elected, it would be unlikely that he would get bipartisan agreement to get that to happen," she said. "I think the odds of success are pretty low."

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