When Congress voted a $6 million appropriation for long-term, low-interest student loans under the National Defense Education Act, it failed to provide a satisfactory method of allocation. Under the law, if requests from institutions of higher learning exceed the appropriation (a foregone conclusion), the requests within each state are slashed by a corresponding percentage. In Massachusetts, for example, colleges asked for over $2.3 million, whereas only $249,680 was available. Resulting grants thus were pared to about ten per cent of requests and ranged from Boston College's $54,472 to the $51 gift to North Adams State Teachers College.
Furthermore, it is to be regretted that Humphreys College in California received over 100 times as much per student as did the University of Massachusetts. But the disparity in "per student" grants is not in itself improper. Some colleges get more requests for financial aid, and some have smaller loan resources than others. Ideally, this factor of need should be considered.
If the present system of rewarding big bids with proportionately large grants is maintained, the next round of allotments will certainly become a grand farce. One president of a small college threatened last week to ask for $.5 million in order to get what he needs. Realizing that the funds it receives will be mathematically proportionate to its request, each college will attempt to outbid the others. The request system will cease to be merely unfair; it will become absurd.
One way of solving the problem would be to divide the appropriation by the number of full-time students enrolled in college, then grant each a "per capita" award. But this suggestion, while seemingly egalitarian, would penalize the so-called "fringe" colleges, while giving too much to well-established institutions.
The only other alternative for alloting money seems to be for the National Defense Student Loan Program to examine carefully the financial aid demands on, and resources of, each institution which sticks its hand in the Federal grab-bag. But, unless the criteria for aid are clearly defined, a dangerous Federal control could arise.
On the one hand, the Director of the Program may be able to exert a subtle direction over the loan policies of colleges. On the other, colleges will be tempted to apply political pressure on the Director through Congressmen and the like. In this case, the well-established institutions would probably be able to bring most pressure, thus penalizing the colleges that really need the money most.
Federal assistance to higher education, especially long-term, low-interest loans, is welcome. As colleges are forced to expand, their financial aid resources are spread thinner and thinner. But, to prevent the Program from becoming a farce, Congress should amend the Act to provide a workable method for determining actual financial need, while insuring colleges against unwanted Federal control.