Washington trims Pell Grants: How will students pay fall tuition?
Washington's new austerity may make it harder for low-income students to afford college. Pell Grants are on the chopping block, losing $5.7 billion under the current House proposal.
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But many Republicans in Congress argue that even popular programs have to take a hit, to rein in unmanageable levels of government spending.Skip to next paragraph
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The Pell Grant program is “on an unsustainable course – it’s heading toward bankruptcy, and we need to make tough choices to make sure it continues to serve the students that need it most,” says Brian Newell, spokesman for Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, chair of the House’s Education & the Workforce Committee.
The Obama administration acknowledges that, on its current course, the program is heading toward a $20 billion shortfall by the end of 2012, because the number of eligible students enrolling in college has been dramatically increasing.
But President Obama sees Pell Grants as an investment in the future, and wants to make minor adjustments in student aid to save money, rather than cut the maximum Pell Grant. His proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 would take away grants used for college courses in the summer and would reduce loan subsidies for graduate students.
There’s plenty of room for cuts to Pell Grants, says Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. Pell Grant funding has been going up for a long time, she says, and even doubled in the past few years.
Despite that, “it has done nothing to mitigate the college-cost problem, which is really the issue” for low-income students, she says.
By increasing federal subsidies and grants, the government relieves the pressure universities would otherwise face to use resources efficiently and lower their costs, Ms. Burke adds.
Some higher education observers are optimistic about Pell Grants being maintained for this fall. Because students are already being told the amounts of their grants, “the longer this goes on, the harder it becomes for Congress to retroactively go back in and take money away that has been promised to them,” says Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education in Washington.
But as more and more stories come out about possible cuts to aid at both the federal level and in cash-strapped states, the cumulative effect could be to discourage low-income students from attending college, he and others say.