Each year, many veterinary students are among the roughly half million students borrowing Perkins Loans to help finance their education. This low-interest federal student loan expired last September, but was resurrected and passed at the end of 2015.
Among the final bills signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 18 was the Perkins Loan Program Extension Act (H.R. 3594, PL 114-105). The AVMA supported the bill because it gives some veterinary students access to the program for one additional year through Sept. 30, 2017, after which the program will expire permanently.
As a condition of extending the program, Congress made dramatic changes to purposely limit the number of eligible students who may borrow from the program. This means that Congress continues to steadily erode federal support for graduate and professional education, despite the increasing need for the students’ knowledge and skills to improve our national economy.
No new Perkins Loans will be made to graduate and professional students beginning in the 2016-2017 school year. However, if a graduate or professional student received a Perkins Loan prior to Oct. 1, 2015, then he/she may receive additional Perkins Loans, pending that he/she stays at the same institution and it is needed to continue or complete the same academic program for which the last Perkins Loan was received. For undergraduates, institutions are now required to award all subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans prior to awarding Perkins Loans.
The AVMA is gearing up and will be prepared to mobilize participants of our AVMA Legislative Fly-in as Congress works later this year to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which expired at the end of 2013. The nearly 1,000-page law governs the entire student loan system, accreditation, and myriad other important aspects of higher education.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which has jurisdiction over reauthorization of the HEA, has indicated that he wants to completely rewrite the bill. His counterpart in the House, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce (E&W) Committee, however, has indicated that he wants to focus on five main areas: empowering students to make informed decisions, simplifying and improving student aid, promoting innovation, increasing access and completion, and ensuring strong accountability while limiting the federal government’s role. While members of both the HELP and E&W Committees are serious about overhauling the law, their efforts could be stymied by a congested congressional calendar this year, forthcoming appropriations battles, and looming 2016 presidential politics.