Letter to the editor

I feel compelled to respond to the Sept. 3, 2001, Federal Computer Week column, "Education Mismanagement," by Milt Zall. I am a former employee of the Education Department, Student Financial Assistance. I can see from Mr. Zall's comments that some facts are in order.

Mr. Zall stated that "clearly this grant program is intended for young college students who are supported by their parents. How many 70-year-olds do you know who attend college and receive parental support?"

Actually, in order to receive aid from the student aid programs, you must meet all the following criteria, which are set forth in the Higher Education Act:

* Have financial need.

* Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development certificate, or certain other equivalents.

* Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program.

* Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen.

* Have a valid Social Security number.

* Sign a statement on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) certifying that you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes, that you are not in default on a federal student loan, and that you do not owe money on a federal student grant.

* Register with the Selective Service, if required.

* Not have a conviction(s) for a drug offense, which would make you ineligible for aid.

This information is available in {http://www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/StudentGuide} the Student Guide, posted on the Education Department Web site.

The statute does not specify that to receive student aid you must be supported by your parents or be under 30 -- or whatever age Mr. Zall considers to be young. Also, the FAFSA is used by states and many colleges to establish eligibility for their programs, according to criteria established by each state and college offering the aid.

I am concerned by Mr. Zall's apparent bias against older persons, and feel personally insulted since my parents are senior students (not receiving any aid) at Towson State University and are not only enriching their lives, but those of their classmates. However, if they did need the aid, they should be as entitled to it as any other citizen that meets the criteria above.

My other concern is when Mr. Zall refers to the establishment of a management improvement team consisting of eight senior managers to address the Education Department's serious management problems. He asks, "Why didn't the team detect such an obvious problem? How many managers have been fired or demoted?"

I know many of those managers, as well as the professionals responsible for operating these systems. Why do you suggest that these competent and dedicated people be fired? They are implementing the statute as enacted. At what age should Congress say that an applicant should not be able to receive student aid, to benefit themselves and society?

You state that you are not "picking on the Education Department." Sure seemed that way to me.

Helene Epstein
Former Employee of the Department of Education, SFA
Currently vice president, Meritage Technologies


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