Opinion: Proposed freeze on Pell Grants leaves low-income students out in the cold

Greg Zaiser is Elon University’s vice president for admissions and financial planning.

In this essay, he says proposed changes to the federal Pell Grant program hurt students.

By Greg Zaiser

Ten years ago, George W. Bush was president, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Palm Treo 650 was the hot new cell phone and a loaf of bread cost $1.05.

It’s hard to predict what life will be like a decade from now, but one thing is certain – there will be a much greater need for financial aid to make college affordable for millions of young people. So it’s especially troubling that Congress is considering freezing Pell Grants at the current level until 2025.

Lawmakers know that college will be more expensive, so freezing the Pell program is equivalent to phasing out the federal investment in educating tomorrow’s productive citizens. This would put America at a serious disadvantage in a time when other nations are expanding educational opportunities to be competitive in the global economy.

In addition to changes in Pell Grants, Congress is also considering making student loans much more expensive by charging students thousands of dollars in interest while they are still in school. The goal is to reduce the burden on taxpayers. But student financial aid makes up only about 1 percent of the federal budget, and the impact of these budget cuts on higher education and our nation would be profound.

It’s important to understand why Pell Grants are vitally important. The federal college grant and loan programs were established 50 years ago in the landmark Higher Education Act. Our nation believed that all qualified students should be able to go to college, regardless of their financial means, and the federal programs provided basic funding for millions of lower-income students.

0317artToday the maximum Pell Grant is $5,775, a level that provides core financial support for undergraduate students who have the greatest financial need. Nearly 75 percent of Pell Grant recipients have a family income of $30,000 or less.

Last year, more than 9 million students received Pell Grants, a 78 percent increase since 2003, which has driven up the total program cost. Rather than celebrating the benefits of higher participation and improved college access, Congress is focused on reducing the cost.

But while Washington argues the merits of student aid, those of us in higher education see the impact of this crucial funding in a very real and personal way. Students of modest means come to us with dreams and aspirations and they understand that a college degree is vital to their future.

We work with students and their families who are trying to piece together a puzzle of personal savings, loans, work earnings, scholarships, and federal grants to fund their college education. Pell Grants form the cornerstone for students with the greatest financial need. We work to find a way to make each student’s financial puzzle work, but the financial picture is becoming more difficult every year. Despite our best efforts, the numbers don’t always add up, and some students who desperately want to stay in school must set their dreams aside.

Understanding the historic nature of these proposed Pell Grant changes, students across the nation are mounting the #SaveStudentAid campaign. In addition, 77 higher education associations have formed the Student Aid Alliance to work to preserve the federal programs.

Colleges will continue to promote financial aid for every deserving young person. But we ask you to let your representatives in Washington that you support students. This is a decision point for our nation – our chance to continue the support for higher education that was established 50 years ago. The leaders of that generation understood the power of education to shape our nation’s future. They understood that a highly educated population is the engine for economic growth.

Reducing our commitment to higher education should not be an option.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

14 comments
Tcope
Tcope

We are in an education price bubble that needs to be deflated asap. The main cause is the ease with which student loans/grants are given out by the Federal Government. Who thought it was a good idea to give an 18 year old thousands in debt with a dubious method of paying it back?

anothercomment
anothercomment

There is just one simple fix that needs to be made, to the Pell Grant and student loan system and that is cut out the for profit mills that pry on low income, veterans ects and offer basically nothing. The television advertising schools, the Marta bus advertising school.

Put why these schools supposedly provide into vo- tech schools and a vo tech graduation track in high school.

It has been proven that this is where you have your largest defaults. Lowest graduation rates. For example Corinthiun mess.

Then here is a big way to cut down on college costs limit the number to D1 Football programs in a sTate Unviersity System to 2. No state needs more than 2 Division 1 A FOOTBALL TEAMS IN THE NCAA bleeding its budgets. Most of all bleeding every student dry with $1,000 plus per year in student fees to help support the football program.

Georgia state needed a loosing football program like a hole in my butt, now my wallet. The same thing with Kennesaw state they didn't need football teams. They can't collect enough $1 million dollar checks from top teams to loose to be profitable.

We need to stop the for profits! We need to stop adding football programs and do what UAB did,,shut down unprofitable football programs. We need to add vo-tech back to the high schools, so we have career ready high school graduates. pell grants should have colas. We also need to stop the luxury dorm and building frenzy on all college campuses part of the college experience was living in a 10 x 16 cinder block room shared with a room mate. With shared bathrooms down the hall. It made you a better person.

redweather
redweather

The problem with Pell Grants is that we're talking about a thirty to forty billion dollar program.  Financial accountability has always been an issue, making the program an easy target for naysayers.  I wish we could do a better job of ensuring that students are using their refunds for valid educational purposes, and that colleges are making sure students are really pursuing a degree.  But this would no doubt entail an increase in bureaucratic costs that might essentially negate any savings.  As a result, the naysayers can always point to fraud and waste as rationales for cutting funding. However, those same naysayers--if they wanted to be honest--have always had the same rationales for cutting defense funding.  But you don't hear much about that.  

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

It's human nature - when someone else is paying the bill, you order lobster instead of a sandwich and soup.  Colleges are accustomed to federal and state money footing the bill for students who want to attend.  Hence, the costs keep rising as the quality keeps declining. 



Kvinnan2
Kvinnan2

Federal and state giveaways such as this not only increase the tax burden on working families—but are perhaps the prime reason why college costs continue to soar. Ever greater government spending isn't matched with real incentives to use money more efficiently.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

Yep - Maureen ignores that most scholarships now are need based and not merit based where most of the money comes from.  The son decided to stay in state and attend UGA using Zell Miller scholarships because he was ineligible for pell grants and most scholarships were not offered to him simply because he came from a "wealthy" family.  He is now in dental school.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

@Wascatlady


Real life.  Have you submitted a FAFSA analysis lately?  I have twice and both times was informed that I "Could afford to pay 100% of tuition costs" of my children.  Also, all pell grants are need-based.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MiltonMan @Wascatlady I think if you (or Maureen. I know she has in the past.) contacted a reputable financial aid researcher you would find that most (by sheer number) are merit-based. There has been a great erosion of non-merit gift aid.


I am excluding non-gift aid (i.e. loans), as it has to be repaid.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MiltonMan @Wascatlady  My last FAFSA submission was 4 years ago, but before that I submitted from 1988-2011 (me for grad school, 3 children for college, including one master's degree.) so I have had a good bit of experience with them.

Astropig
Astropig

This guy has a direct financial interest in getting as much money into these students hands as possible so they can put it in his hands soon thereafter.Maybe he needs to ask the business office to take a hard look at all of the Vice Chancellors and other academic make-work jobs that drive up costs.


Nahhh,never happen. 

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

My mother was the first in her family to attend college, because Berry College had the work-based program to allow students to earn their education.  Programs such as Berry used to have would be valuable for students now.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

Any grants that are race based need axing.