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Maryland legislators attempt to tackle college affordability

University-of-maryland-circleBy Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, MarylandReporter.com

Grappling with the issue of affordability in higher education, lawmakers are taking suggestions and drafting legislation to ease the financial burden Maryland college students face.

Members of the Senate Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee and the House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee heard Monday from administrators from institutions across the state as well as representatives from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC).

MHEC officials said they hope to alleviate costs and increase retention and graduation rates. A key mission involves catering to low-income students by teaching them about available federal aid.

In fiscal 2012, MHEC estimated that among the state’s two-year institutions, only 54% of students submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — commonly known as FAFSA. This number was only slightly higher – 61% — for students at four-year colleges and universities.

The FAFSA program, part of the U.S. Department of Education, offers more than $150 billion annually in grants, loans and work study funds to help students meet college expenses.

Total financial need for students in fiscal 2012, as measured by FAFSA applications that the higher ed commission reviewed, totaled $3.2 billion. Loans — from all sources — encompassed 21% of that need, and federal assistance covered only 12%. Roughly 58% of those students’ needs went unmet, but they still enrolled in school.

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