To the editor:

Recently, President Bush unveiled his proposal for revamping the federal student financial assistance programs. The package included an increase in funding for Pell Grants, the main federal scholarship program for low-income students, and targeted more of the grant money to the very poorest students. I was very encouraged to see this since that will help more low-income students go to school.At the same time, I saw discouraging signs that his proposal would scale back eligibility for federal student loan programs. It could hurt the nearly 5,000 students who attend private career schools in Utah and the many more who plan on pursuing their education in the future.

Bush is proposing eliminating eligibility for loans for students enrolled in programs that last less than 600 hours. Denying loan eligibility to students in shorter-term programs would hurt those who cannot afford being out of the job market for a long period.

This will limit the educational opportunity for students and also reduce the supply of front-line, entry-level workers that our state's economic future depends on.

He also wants to require credit checks for all borrowers over the age of 21. That contradicts the whole aim of the federal loan program - to serve at-risk students who can't get regular loans from a bank. This again would hurt students the programs are supposed to help.

In the coming months, as Congress debates the future of student aid programs, I ask them to remember that they also will be determining the educational opportunities students, both present and future, can pursue. That, in turn, will determine whether Utah will have the kind of skilled work force it needs for a vibrant economy.

Dixon Merrill

Skills 2000