On the issue of college affordability — which arose in an earlier blog this week — there is mounting concern over proposed congressional cuts to Pell Grants, the nation’s largest financial aid program for college students and the most costly. Pell Grants are expected to cost nearly $40 billion for next year.
Republicans in Congress want to slash the amount of the awards or the number of eligible recipients. The budget passed by the House cuts maximum grant by 45 percent and ousts about 1.5 million students from the eligibility rolls.
Advocates counter that Pell Grants are already failing to keep up with actual college costs. Thirty years ago, the maximum Pell award covered about three-fourths of the college costs. Now it covers only about one-third. The need-based grants — which are not repaid – help 10 million low-income students pay for college. The amount awarded to a student each year is based on need and school costs, but is never more than $5,550, the current cap.
Reading about the Pell debate, it’s interesting to see how it resembles the Georgia debate on cutting the HOPE Scholarship. Except no one compared HOPE to welfare. (I think the term that posters preferred on Get Schooled was “entitlement.”)
In a radio interview in the spring with Blog Talk Radio, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, likened Pell Grants to “welfare.”
He said: “So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century. You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college. And there ought to be some kind of commitment and endgame.”
(As you might expect, Rehberg backpedaled later, saying, “I’m not suggesting that college students are welfare recipients.”)
Under the proposed cuts and changes to Pell, the average Pell Grant award to Georgia students would fall from $3,853 to $2,018, and 42,722 (out of 321,596) students in the state would no longer be eligible for a grant at all, according to Education Trust.
In an effort to rouse support for protecting the grants, Ed Trust sent out an information packet on Pell Grants:
– According to the most recent available data, low-income families already spend approximately 72 percent of their family income to pay for college after all federal, state and institutional grant aid is counted. Cutting Pell Grants even further would significantly increase the burden for these families.
–A household earning $80,000 annually contributes $30.90 per year toward all forms of federal student financial aid for college. The same family contributes $1,015.97 for national defense.
–By age 24, the children of the wealthy are 10 times more likely to have a college degree than are the children of the poor. Our nation – built on the values of education, hard work and opportunity – cannot sustain this growing divide between the haves and the have-nots.
– Tuition and fees have grown at four-times the rate of inflation, and nearly twice as fast as health care expenses (college costs up 439 percent since 1982-84; medical expenses up 251 percent). There are a number of explanations for rising college prices, with declining state appropriations per student high on the list for public colleges and universities. But Pell Grants have been increased in recent years to try to KEEP UP with skyrocketing college costs – not the other way around.
– A recent study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce projects that our economy will have a shortage of about 3 million workers with college degrees by 2018.
– Pell has already taken its fair share of hits: $4 billion was slashed from the Federal Pell Grant Program budget last year. And program growth is expected to slow down dramatically over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office projects less than 1 percent annual growth in Pell costs over the next two years, and just 2 percent annual growth over the next 10 – a minuscule trajectory compared with the program’s growth since 2007.
For a good look at Pell Grants and what might be done to cut costs while improving student outcomes, please look at this Chronicle of Higher Education piece in which six different views are offered.
There are some good suggestions, including building in more incentives for Pell recipients to complete college and for colleges to work harder to help those students cross the finish line.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog