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H.R. 5715 (110th): Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008

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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on May 7, 2008.

Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 - (Sec. 2) Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to increase, by $2,000, the maximum annual unsubsidized Stafford loan amounts that may be provided to undergraduate students under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. Sets the aggregate limit on such loans at $31,000 for dependent undergraduates and $57,500 for independent undergraduates.

(Sec. 3) Gives parent borrowers of PLUS FFELs the option to defer loan principal repayment for up to six months after the students for whom such loans are borrowed cease to carry at least one-half the normal full-time academic workload.

(Sec. 4) Authorizes lenders to determine that borrowers of PLUS FFELs who, between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2009, are no more than 180 days delinquent on their home mortgages, and no more than 89 days delinquent on the repayment of any other debt, meet a specified extenuating circumstances requirement which makes them eligible for such loans despite having an adverse credit history.

(Sec. 5) Includes parent borrowers in the FFEL lender-of-last-resort program for borrowers otherwise unable to obtain such loans.

Prohibits loans made under the FFEL lender-of-last-resort program from having more favorable terms than other FFELs of the same type.

Allows institutions of higher education (IHEs), with the Secretary of Education's approval, to participate in such program until June 30, 2009; thereby requiring guaranty agencies serving as lenders-of-last-resort to make FFELs to student and parent borrowers of such IHEs, until such date, regardless of their ability to otherwise obtain such loans.

Allows the Secretary to develop any standards regarding IHE participation in such program that the Secretary considers appropriate, including requirements that IHEs demonstrate: (1) their inability, despite due diligence, to secure eligible lenders' commitment to make loans to a significant number of their students; and (2) that a minimum number or percentage of their students have received rejections from eligible FFEL lenders.

Authorizes the Secretary to advance needed funds to guaranty agencies acting as lenders-of-last-resort in such situations.

Prohibits lenders-of-last-resort from: (1) offering certain inducements to schools, school employees, prospective borrowers, or other lenders; or (2) marketing loans under the lender-of-last-resort program.

Requires the Secretary to provide information to the public and issue reports to Congress regarding such program.

Directs the Secretary, within 90 days of this Act's enactment, to review and, if necessary, revise regulations concerning prohibited guaranty agency inducements to eligible lenders to ensure that such agencies do not engage in improper inducements made possible by this Act's expansion of their role as lenders-of-last-resort. Requires the Secretary to report to Congress.

(Sec. 6) Authorizes and appropriates sums necessary for advances to guaranty agencies acting as lenders-of-last-resort.

(Sec. 7) Gives the Secretary the authority, until July 2009, to purchase, or enter into forward commitments to purchase, FFELs from lenders upon the determination that there is an inadequate availability of loan capital to meet the demand for such loans. Prohibits such loan purchases from resulting in any net cost to the federal government.

Requires, the Secretary, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, before any loan purchase is made, to publish a joint notice in the Federal Register that: (1) establishes the terms governing such purchase; and (2) outlines the methodology and factors they will consider in setting a price for such loans that is in the best interest of the country and will result in no net cost to the federal government.

Conditions the purchase of such loans on lenders agreeing to use the funds from such purchases to ensure their continued participation in the FFEL program and origination of new FFELs.

Allows the Secretary to contract with the lenders whose loans are being purchased for the servicing of such loans, provided such arrangement is in the best interest of borrowers and does not result in costs the federal government would otherwise not incur in servicing such loans.

(Sec. 8) Expresses the sense of Congress that the federal financial institutions should consider using available authorities in a timely manner, if needed, to enhance student and family access to federal student loans in a manner that results in no increased costs to taxpayers and in no way delays or limits the Secretary's authority to advance funds to lenders-of-last-resort or purchase FFELs.

(Sec. 9) Directs the Comptroller General to conduct a five-year study and report to Congress on the effect increases in FFEL loan limits under this Act and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 have on the cost of attending college and the use of private educational loans.

(Sec. 10) Revises the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to make noncitizen students and students enrolled or accepted for enrollment at an IHE on at least a half-time basis eligible for program grants. (Currently, only U.S. citizens and full-time students may participate.) Reduces the amount of a program grant available to a less than full-time student in the same manner in which Pell Grants are reduced.

Relaxes eligibility requirements for the Academic Competitiveness Grants available to Pell Grant-eligible first and second year students to: (1) allow recipients to participate in IHE programs that award a certificate, rather than a degree; (2) include students whose secondary education involved private or home schooling; and (3) include students whose previous IHE enrollment was part of their secondary school studies.

Revises eligibility requirements for the SMART Grants available to Pell Grant-eligible third and fourth year students pursuing majors in science, mathematics, technology, engineering, or a critical foreign language. Includes students who attend IHEs that do not allow students to declare a major, if their studies in such subjects are equivalent to those required at schools that permit students to major in such subjects. Includes also any students in the fifth year of an IHE program that requires five full years of coursework for baccalaureate degrees in such subjects. Sets the maximum SMART grant amount at $4,000 for each year of a student's eligibility.

(Sec. 11) Makes inapplicable to amendments made by this Act certain rulemaking requirements and the master calendar of actions the Secretary must take regarding student aid.