WASHINGTON (AP) _ Universities that set common standards for granting financial aid to needy students would be permanently exempt from antitrust laws under legislation passed by the House on Tuesday.

The bill, passed 414-0, would end legal questions surrounding need-based educational aid since 1989, when the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against a group of nine Ivy League schools.

Those schools, called the Ivy Overlap Group, had agreed to use common principles to assess each student's financial need and give essentially the same scholarship to students admitted to more than one member of the group.

The agreement, said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., sponsor of the legislation with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, helped ``maximize the resources that could go to the students in need and I regard that as one of the most socially responsible things the universities did.''

In 1991, all of the schools except MIT agreed to a consent decree that in effect ended the coordination, but in 1992 Congress passed a temporary antitrust exemption allowing the schools to use common principles in determining needs. The exemption has been extended several times, with the current extension to expire on Sept. 31.

The bill's sponsors said the exemptions have encouraged other colleges beyond the original nine to adhere to a policy of need-blind admissions and need-based aid.

Last year, institutional grant aid at all colleges and universities totaled $12.2 billion, compared to about $8.9 billion in federal grant aid.

The bill still must be considered by the Senate.


The bill is H.R. 768.