NEW DIRECT LOAN PROGRAM BENEFITS PRAIRIE VIEW A&M STUDENTS

by Roslyn Lang

Daily Cougar Staff

Student loans made directly from the federal government to students through the institution they are attending eliminate the maze of middlemen and the time-consuming outside application process, said A.D. James, director of Financial Aid at Prairie View A&M University.

"Demographic information is imported from central processing, the school approves (the loan), funds are then electronically transferred from the government's contracted servicing agent (to the school), and we issue a promissory note to the student," he said. "Students love it. From beginning to end, it's three days."

The ease and convenience for students at the front end of the program is fine, but James said he has some concerns about back-end software and servicing problems. He said bugs in the reconciliation and student confirmation portions of the software are being eliminated by National Computer Systems, which wrote the program used in the Direct Loan Program.

To service loans on their end, Prairie View had to pay start-up costs totalling $40,000 in the form of added personnel, computers and peripherals to eliminate outside loan application and lender/guarantor processes, James said. Administrative costs in excess of the cost allowance granted by the government are also absorbed by the university, he added.

James said Prairie View administered 700 direct loans, only to incoming freshmen, during last semester's pilot program. The volume of loans at a larger institution (like UH) could make the problems with the back-end process tedious, he said.

Robert Sheridan, UH director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said UH chose not to participate in the initial stage of Direct Loan because of questions about how the plan works and because of the unknown impact on cash flow, resulting from "fronting money to the government."

UH questioned the future existence of the Direct Loan program and the retention of the government's current subcontracted servicing agents, Sheridan said.

"The literal millions of records that would have to be transferred (between servicing agents) get real scary to think about," he said. "When you are doing a pilot program with (104) schools vs. 7,000 schools and the number of records that are generated in relation to that, it boggles the mind."

Stephanie Babyak, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the government projects at least a $2 billion savings, with some estimates as optimistic as $12 billion through the year 2000, by replacing the Federally Funded Education Loan Program loan system with the Direct Loan Program. Eliminating lender subsidies (typically 3 percent) and guarantor cuts generates much of the savings, she said.

Elimination of the middlemen further saves money by making it possible for the federal government to borrow money at a lower interest rate, Babyak said. "If the difference between the market rate and the cap set for students goes beyond a certain rate, the government pays the difference, so the banks still see a profit," Babyak said.

Individual Education Accounts offer four repayment options that can be adjusted to meet individual student needs:

•<B>The Standard Repayment Plan<P>, in which uniform payments (not less than $50) are made over 10 years. Like the current repayment schedule, this method provides a satisfactory plan for borrowers with small debt levels.

•<B>The Income Contingent Repayment Plan<P>, in which payments are based on the borrower's annual income and loan amount. Repayment is at a fixed percentage that rises when income goes up and declines when income decreases. Borrowers who opt for lower-paying public service jobs, or those who need to adjust their payments to their income level (while launching a new business or working less because of family responsibilities), may find this plan more suited to their needs.

•<B>The Extended Repayment Plan<P>, which requires the borrower to make equal monthly payments over a period of time between 12 and 30 years, depending on the amount. Borrowers with high levels of debt (medical students, who may borrow $100,000) can extend their repayment schedule.

•<B>The Graduated Repayment Plan<P>, which allows the borrower to make lower initial payments that will increase every two years (not to exceed 150 percent of what the payments would be under the Standard Plan) over a period between 12 and 30 years, depending on the amount. Borrowers typically have a high level of debt, and their income in the early years is relatively low, but will likely increase with time.

All direct loans have no fees. The interest rate for student loans is variable and cannot exceed 8.25 percent, and the interest rate for parent loans cannot exceed 9 percent. As personal and financial needs change, borrowers may change their repayment plan. However, the total payment may be greater under plans other than the Standard Repayment Plan.

Babyak said a fifth option, consolidation of existing federal loans, will be available soon. "The president has the plan. We are awaiting his OK," she said.

The default rate for fiscal year 1992 was 15 percent, Babyak said. That rate should drop some, providing additional savings to the government (currently, the government pays back defaulted loan amounts to banks), but elimination of the middlemen's risk-free profits is the real savings benefit, she said.

Elimination of lenders and 100-percent-phased-in replacement of FFELP loans with Direct Loan is the goal of the Department of Education, Babyak said.

James said he thought students and institutions would benefit from the competition between Direct Loan and FFELP loans. He said Prairie View is getting better results and quicker turnaround from FFELP lenders. "Don't eliminate FFELP loans. Both types (of loans) can run and be successful," he said.

How do you get an Individual Education Account?

There are two ways.

Get a new loan from one of the pilot program's 104 schools that are participating in the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program. Next year, 1,500 schools will participate -- phasing up to 100 percent availability. For more information, call 1-800-4FEDAID.

The second option will be to convert or consolidate existing federal loans (there is no minimum or maximum amount that can be consolidated) into a Direct Consolidation Loan. For more information, call 1-800-455-5889.

 

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HELTON NAMED IN SUIT ALLEGING RACIAL SLUR

 

by Daniel Scholl

Daily Cougar Staff

Houston Cougars head football coach Kim Helton and the UH Board of Regents was named in a lawsuit Monday that alleged he harassed two people because of their race, UH officials said.

The lawsuit, filed by Christian Rollins and Carl Lenz, who are not affiliated with UH, states that the two were harassed when they tried to enter a booth sponsored by UH at a cook-off contest at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

According to the lawsuit, Helton allegedly told the two to eat their food and "get the hell out." Rollins, who is black, was wearing a Texas A&M T-shirt, and Helton allegedly said, "Wearing that shirt is like me wearing my white hood at an NAACP meeting."

Helton said he could not comment on the incident until today.

UH Athletics Director Bill Carr would not comment, either.

Lee Liggett, general counsel for the UH System, said he has not yet seen the lawsuit, but his office will be representing the coach. He said he expected to see it today.

Geri Konigsberg, interim director of UH Media Relations, said, "Because we have not seen the lawsuit, we cannot comment on it. But the allegations will be investigated."

Both Rollins and Lenz are claiming emotional damage and are asking for compensation and the firing of Helton.

 

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LEE RECOMMENDS STUDENT SERVICE FEE HIKE, CALLS FOR A.D. BRUCE, SVN FUNDING

by Daniel Scholl

Daily Cougar Staff

The vice president for Student Affairs has spoken, and a student service fee hike may be on the way.

This came in the form of Elwyn Lee's address to the Student Fees Advisory Committee Monday morning, where he presented his recommendations to the committee, one of which was the advent of a $2 increase in student service fees.

"It's just a recommendation," Lee said. "It's not, quote, necessary."

Lee went on to say that the extra money created from the increase, about $200,000, would be used as a safety net against unexpected expenditures.

"Nobody is going to help us (if there is an emergency)," he said. He likened the money to a savings account to be used only if one runs out of money.

The other surprising recommendation came when Lee told the committee to rethink Legal Services.

"I recommend we abolish it as it is currently being run," Lee said.

The problem came when it was discovered that the legal adviser to students, who earns $36,000 a year, was only working 10.5 hours a week, not the agreed-on 13, said Rodger Peters, intern (special projects), Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

Lee recommended that SFAC either hold the money requested by Legal Services and completely restructure the office or just do away with it.

Combining the service with the UH Law Center, or hiring a newly graduated law student, were some of the alternatives Lee suggested.

"We need to get more for our money," he said.

Other than Legal Services, Lee more or less recommended that level base funding be given with most additions on a one-time basis.

The groups that needed funds to maintain operations were the A.D. Bruce Religion Center and the Student Video Network. Lee recommended that those units receive the necessary funds.

The only other problem Lee had with a department's fee request was the Dean of Students Office's request for a new student handbook form.

Lee said he preferred the student handbook to the faculty handbook, on which the new student handbook would be styled. He also said he did not see the need if the current style met the needs of students.

The Center for Students with DisABILITIES was one area in which Lee felt there was a need to continue financial support, but at a higher rate of funding.

 

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DISCOVER KING BISCUIT -- A PLEASURABLE ODDITY

by Michael Chamberlain

Contributing Writer

King Biscuit is an odd name for a bar and restaurant, but it somehow seems fitting for this pleasantly odd establishment, which appears at the bend on White Oak Boulevard.

The partners who own and manage the place are Irishmen who take pride in their imported beer and prize-winning Irish stew. However, today the patrons will be downing crawfish to a Cajun DJ's musical selections -- Yes, "Fat Tuesday at King Biscuit!"

The location is also odd. White Oak Boulevard in the lower heights is a lovely drive along White Oak Bayou, flanked by homes to the north and the White Oak Bayou to the south. Nary a business establishment can be found along this stretch. The location seemed even more peculiar for the original King Biscuit, which opened in 1984; it had a drive-through sandwich shop.

From a table in the restaurant's "City View Room," you can enjoy the backdrop of the Houston skyline crowning the trees of the bayou. But the view wasn't always so pleasant. The White Bayou and White Bayou Park had become a dump site. Thousands of discarded tires bred sufficient clouds of mosquitos to share with the entire neighborhood, and kitchen appliances made for mountains of junk. But these Irishmen rolled up their sleeves and formed the Bayou Warriors -- volunteers and people working off community service sentences -- and battled the trash.

Today the park is laced with paved sidewalks, studded with park benches beside the now clear water of the bayou. Several awards received from the city for these efforts hang on one wall of the restaurant. Other walls boast artwork from neighborhood school kids.

Tuesday is kids' night; parents can bring their children and feed them for only a dollar. There are drawing contests and other activities, giving the parents some peace to enjoy an imported beer. One tenth of Tuesday night proceeds got to the local PTA.

Unsurprisingly, this odd club has an odd clientele. You are likely to be sitting next to a neighborhood artist or a judge. Local musicians often frequent King Biscuit, some to perform (the restaurant offers live acoustic music on Saturday nights -- blues and jazz, as well as rock 'n' roll), and some to hang out. On any given night, you might find Miss Molly; Lupe, the lead singer for the Basics; and members of Ear Drum, to drop a few names. Joe "King" Carsco even occasionally stops by when he's in town.

Of course, a restaurant is about food, and King Biscuit has a new menu. Owner Rob Fleming described it as "Regional American with a Tex-Mex flair."

"We specialize in low-cal pasta dishes. We have a spinach lasagna that is only 300 calories and six grams of fat," Fleming said. "It's our No. 1 seller."

The meal comes with a salad and an iced tea for $5.95. The Biscuit also has family lunch specials. For $4.95, you can get a sandwich and an iced tea with fries, chips or a salad, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The King Biscuit menu also includes "a fantastic snapper and grilled salmon," which can be ordered grilled or blackened and is served with either tarragon garlic or garlic mint sauce. All dishes are under $10.

The restaurant now offers a new vegetarian menu. This includes a vegetarian taco with organic whole-wheat tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, mushrooms, sprouts and sesame seeds. The plate comes with black beans and Spanish rice. Other vegetarian offerings include vegetarian enchiladas and vegetarian poor-boys.

All the food is prepared fresh, and desserts are hand-made each morning.

King Biscuit also organizes bus field trips. "We go to the Astros games, the dog track, the Renaissance Festival, basketball and hockey games, and visits to local breweries. We get people involved. We all get to know each other," Fleming said. This helps to create camaraderie on the bus and back at the restaurant.

If you want to impress a new love or a friend from out-of-town, take them to your "little known discovery" on the bend of White Oak Boulevard. Or better yet, don't. Leave it to me and my friends.

 

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NO BEER, BUT MARLEY FEST STILL A SUCCESS

Local vendor, Mike Kaba, uses a hemp leaf to fan himself at the 10th Annual Official Bob Marley Festival.

Photo by Daniel Dalstra

by Jessica Ellis

Daily Cougar Staff

Bob Marley fans gathered Sunday to celebrate the legendary late king of reggae at Robertson Stadium, as international and local artists performed at the 10th Annual Official Bob Marley Festival.

This was the first year the festival was held at Robertson Stadium and the first year visitors were charged admission.

Admission was $3 for adults and $2 for students with UH I.D.s; children were admitted free. Attendants were also asked to donate non-perishable food items to the Houston Food Bank.

The cover charge was necessary to help compensate the cost of venue rental, which exceeded the amount the festival planners are accustomed to paying.

Founding director of the festival, Iya of Marcus Garvey Records, said the cost of the stadium, in addition to the hire of police officers for security, was the reason for the cover, which has never before been charged. Additionally, planners needed to charge a fee because beer was not sold at the event.

UHPD Chief George Hess said he was not approached until Thursday about the temporary liquor license request.

He said the request was waived by the Dean of Students Office, which needs a 15-workday notice before the event.

The request didn't cross his desk until Thursday, Feb. 23, Hess said.

"I need a two-week notice so I can supply the manpower" needed for an event selling alcohol on campus, he said.

"I think it was poor planning in the athletic department," Hess added.

The athletic department is responsible for rental of Robertson stadium.

Despite some miscommunication during the planning stages of the event, Iya said the festival was a success.

"It was good to see so many people come out on such a gloomy day to give of themselves so others may benefit," said junior anthropology major Shane Schiermeier.

Bob Marley's mother, Cedella Marley Booker, performed as well as Houston band D.R.U.M. and many other bands.

Previously, the event has been held at Buffalo Bayou Park and the Superblock, across from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Those who missed the rodeo carnival could help themselves to funnel cakes and turkey legs. Festival-goers shopped for T-shirts, jewelry and artwork, like olive wood statues.

The event was sponsored by the AIDS Foundation of Houston, GTE Mobilnet, 97.9 KBXX, Evans Music City, Sheppard and Association Entertainment Management, The Food Bank, Street Flava, 7-Up, Snapple and Marcus Garvey Records.

The legendary Marley, born Feb. 6, 1945, died of cancer May 11, 1981.

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