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Financial Aid Awareness and Counseling Enhanced Under GOP Higher-Ed Bill

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A bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, released Friday, would require schools to notify students, by their sophomore year in high school that financial aid could help them afford college.

The bill, the opening salvo in Congress' push to reauthorize the main federal law governing higher education, also would require "enhanced" financial aid counseling for students and their parents.

The bill was unveiled Friday by Republican leaders of the House education committee. My colleague Andrew Ujifusa, over at EdWeek's Politics K-12 blog, highlights other aspects of the bill that affect K-12, including student loans and teacher-preparation programs. For those of you who care to dive in, here's a link to the 542-page proposal. 

According to a summary of the bill, the U.S. secretary of education would have to work with states, high schools, higher education, and college-access programs to make sure that schools tell students about financial aid by the time they're in 10th grade.

With their large caseloads, high school counselors often lack the time—and sometimes the training—to advise students in detail about the loans, grants, and scholarships that could make college affordable for them.

Many students—particularly low-income students and those from households with no college-going experience—struggle to navigate the confusing and complex maze of financial aid, and many give up without applying. Officials and advocates estimate that roughly four in 10 students don't complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The National College Access Network welcomed the Republican bill's provisions for earlier awareness of financial aid, saying they offer "the potential to increase access and affordability" for students who are typically underrepresented on college campuses. (NCAN also expressed concern about other aspects of the bill that skew aid toward short-term programs and change aid formulas for four-year college programs. It said that underrepresented students are "better served" by four-year college programs.)

The bill would also require "enhanced" counseling for all students who get federal financial aid, and their parents. The idea, according to the bill summary, would be to ensure that before borrowers "sign on the dotted line" each year, they have the most up-to-date information and understand what they're signing up for.

How that counseling would be provided, and how it would be paid for, weren't immediately clear.

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