Federal bill could help low-income students

By Editorial Board

Student debt has been a hot topic on the 2012 presidential campaign trail. Millions of college graduates in the U.S. are leaving school with thousands of dollars in debt and minimal job prospects. President Barack Obama tried to alleviate the student debt crisis when Congress passed his student loan plan, part of his administration’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative.

Another Senate bill, aptly named the American Dream Accounts Act of 2012, may further ease this deepening crisis. The bill would award grants to certain organizations to provide online savings accounts for low-income students beginning in elementary school and ending once the student has graduated high school. This sounds like a great idea in theory and could make a huge difference in students’ future education plans, but its effectiveness depends on how well it

is executed.

The plan would cost the Department of Education $3 million per year, which could mean cuts to other areas of education. While it is noble to want to help low-income students and give them a chance to pursue higher education, it is unclear whether that means cuts to outlays for faculty and supplies. The bill only states it will be financed by “existing Department of Education funds.”

Yes, $3 million is not an egregious amount of money. But the government should be careful where it makes future cuts to pay for this plan.The accounts, which would be password-protected for maximum privacy and viewable by school counselors, would act as both an academic progress report, which would track grades and GPA from primary to secondary school, and a college savings account, something many low-income parents don’t have.

But colleges should use discretion when viewing a prospective student’s information in the account. Colleges also shouldn’t fall into the habit of having a student’s admittance to an institution hinge on one bad semester. Traditional application policies, like consideration of extracurricular activities, should still

be followed.

Other than these hypothetical snags, the online accounts could motivate students to be more involved in their education. In the era of Facebook, high school students could very easily translate social networking skills to a simple online account.

Low-income schoolchildren in particular will benefit from the account because “only 32 percent of parents who earn less than $35,000 per year are saving for their child’s education” at a higher education institution, according to the bill.

Like many of the bills being passed this year, such as the student debt plan, it could make a huge difference if the government does it right.