If you’re a prospective college student, you might be excited to learn that the Obama administration has big plans in the works for college affordability. Last week a White House blog post delineated the President’s blueprint for student aid reform, which includes pressure on Congress to maintain existing federal student loan interest rates while extending federal work-study opportunities and a federal student tax credit.
But if you actually read the post, and you’re one of more than five million college students age 25 or older, you might be concerned that these new measures won’t apply to you. Why not? Because in various places, the White House blog addresses “kids,” “young people,” “high school seniors,” and their parents.
It’s frustrating that Washington still frames higher education policy according to the stereotype of an 18-year-old coed getting dropped off at Animal House University. In reality, adult college students – including those with spouses, children, and full-time jobs – are becoming as common as traditional campus residents. According to Education Sector, 61 percent of Pell Grant recipients are considered “independent” (i.e. not headed for Spring Break on mom and dad’s credit card). And only about one third of today’s college students enroll immediately after high school.
Still, financial aid is often contingent on minimal credit enrollment requirements that working students can’t meet. Many forms of state-based financial aid are only available to high school seniors, recent high school graduates, or those who participate in state-defined, college-track curricula starting as early as middle school. While any efforts toward increased college access and affordability are a good start, political leaders would do well to remember that financial aid is critical for students of all ages. When the language of public addresses and Congressional hearings excludes older students, it’s little wonder that actual policies often do too.