In its final budget reconciliation agreement (S. 1932), Congress amended the Higher Education Act to establish several new academic grants as mandatory funding programs for low-income students. The grant programs, to be administered through the Department of Education, are intended to encourage students to major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. First- and second-year undergraduate students that meet the necessary qualifications would be eligible for Academic Competitiveness Grants. Third- and fourth-year undergraduates who, in addition to meeting the qualifications, are pursuing a major in a STEM field or certain foreign languages, would be eligible for National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants. The legislation also creates an Academic Competitiveness Council to help identify, review, coordinate, and improve federal STEM education programs, and continues an increase in the amount of student loan forgiveness available to science and math teachers.
Academic Competitiveness Grants:
In their first two years of higher education, students are eligible for Academic Competitiveness Grants if they are U.S. citizens, eligible to receive Pell Grants, have completed a "rigorous" high school program, and, for the second-year grant, have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average in their first year. The first-year grant amount is $750; the second-year grant amount is $1,300.
National SMART Grants:
In their third and fourth years of higher education, students are eligible for SMART Grants (National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grants) if, in addition to the above qualifications, they also pursue a major in physical, life or computer sciences; engineering; technology; mathematics; or a foreign language "that the Secretary [of Education], in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, determines is critical to the national security of the United States." There is no service requirement after graduation. (This is an entirely separate program from the Defense Department SMART Scholarship program, which includes a service commitment in return for academic assistance). The SMART grant amounts for third- and fourth-year undergraduates are $4,000.
Academic Competitiveness Council:
The legislation establishes an Academic Competitiveness Council, to be chaired by the Secretary of Education and comprising "officials from Federal agencies with responsibilities for managing existing Federal programs that promote mathematics and science." The duties of the Council are: "(i) identify all Federal programs with a mathematics or science focus; (ii) identify the target populations being served by such programs; (iii) determine the effectiveness of such programs; (iv) identify areas of overlap or duplication in such programs; and (v) recommend ways to efficiently integrate and coordinate such programs."
For the Academic Competitiveness and SMART Grants and the Academic Competitiveness Council, the total amounts authorized are: FY 2006: $790 million; FY 2007: $850 million; FY 2008: $920 million; FY 2009: $960 million; and FY 2010: $1.01 billion.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness:
Additionally, the budget reconciliation legislation extends a teacher loan forgiveness provision that otherwise would have expired at the end of the 2005 fiscal year. It reathorizes the increase (from $5,000 to $17,500) in the amount of student loan forgiveness available for science, mathematics and special education teachers who meet certain criteria, including teaching in high-need schools for five years.