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Hundreds of colleges on Friday urged congressional leaders to grant a one-year reprieve to the federal Perkins Loan Program, which expired earlier this fall.

A group of 53 higher education organizations and 535 colleges and universities called on Congress to advance a stand-alone extension of the Perkins Loan Program or attach it to a government funding bill. Lawmakers are currently negotiating over how to fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11.

"The recent expiration of the program has caused significant concern for the hundreds of thousands of students who rely on Perkins loans to finance their education," the college leaders wrote in a letter. "And it is critical that an extension is passed as soon as possible to prevent further harm to students."

The U.S. House passed legislation in September to avert an expiration of the Perkins Loan Program. But the Senate failed to act on the measure after Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee objected. Alexander, the Republican chair of the Senate education committee, has said he wants to simplify and streamline the various federal loan programs that are available to students.