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Student aid - or giveaway?

The findings on federal college-aid programs hardly inspire a vote of public confidence in such loan programs. For example, some physicians and other well-paid health professionals are reported to be earning large salaries and driving expensive cars, yet failing to pay back student loans. Or, take the student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta who collected almost $16,000 in federal aid over five years, but earned only 65 credits and had a grade point average of 1.65. Or the student at an Idaho college who snapped up more than $4, 200 in federal assistance and wangled a degree (despite four Fs, 11 Ds, and withdrawals from eight courses) when the college waived its usual graduation standards.

One unfortunate thing about all this is that public cynicism may threaten legitimate support for education. Federal student aid programs, now under severe attack from Reagan administration budget cutters because of the abuses just cited, were originally enacted to help aspiring young people from modest backgrounds attend college. Yet, as new studies by the General Accounting Office and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicate, the financial aid programs are beset by a number of problems, including delinquency in payments and inadequate standards pertaining to loan allocations.

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Richard Schweiker, HHS secretary, deserves plaudits for ordering his department to take action against health professionals who have defaulted on their loans. According to HHS figures, which are similar to data put together by aides to Sen. Charles Percy, as many as 50,000 health profession-als, including more than 5,700 doctors, are delinquent in their payments. That must not be taken lightly, since the $70 million federal medical loan fund is a closed fund. In other words, every borrowed dollar not repaid is a dollar that cannot be loaned to another professional who needs the help to attend school.

Congress and all appropriate federal agencies (such as the Department of Education, Social Security Administration, and Veterans Administration), must tighten up management of federal college-loan programs. The answer is not to dismantle them, as sought by the Office of Management and Budget, but rather to impose such stringent standards that abuses will not occur. Student aid can fulfill a worthy objective. It is incumbent on persons who administer federal loan programs to do so with the greatest care.

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