Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Pell Grants wrongly put on chopping block

The 2012 budget proposal by the House of Representatives and President Obama cut funding from the Pell Grants, a federal program awarded directly through participating institutions such as Whitman College.

How we can compete against the world when we cut funding for higher education from programs like the Pell Grants?

Pell Grants help low-income students attend college. The typical college student today is not a full-time student studying at one institution for four years. His or her college experience may be interrupted by study abroad, jobs (students have to work their schedule around work) and increasingly mental health issues. Summer school can make a large difference for these students.

House Republicans planned to reduce Pell Grant awards by 800 dollars: or 15 percent: to 4,700 dollars in order to support all those currently enrolled.

Obama plans to cut 100 billion dollars from the Pell Grants, using savings to maintain the current maximum award of 5,500 dollars for most eligible students, as well as eliminate the Pell Grant for summer classes.

Cutting the summer school Pell Grants is a bad idea when the program was started in only 2010. There is no long term data to suggest that it does not work yet.

Furthermore, this cut contradicts Obama’s statement that “over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.”

In other words: We should create incentives to attend post-secondary education, primarily through making it cheaper; otherwise we will end with an ill-educated workforce. This would increase the incentive for companies to outsource overseas simply to look for talent. According to Obama’s own words, to create new jobs in the future, we first need to create a well-educated workforce today.

These cuts are in part to reduce the growing national debt. Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he wanted the nation to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

If we really want to out-compete the world, then cutting the Pell Grants to reduce the national debt is a bad idea. It means less money for students, causing some students to be left to find other more expensive means to attend college.

We know that investments in education today pay off in the future and that people with advanced degrees fare much better in the job market. According to the 2009 U.S. Census report, nearly 90 percent of people over 25 graduated from high school, yet only 40 percent get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Of those, only one percent go on to get a doctoral degree. Forty percent is a low number. How are we to raise it if college expenses continue to rise?

Obama should take steps to make post-secondary education more affordable, not less. According to one AP source, experts do not think the subsidy has encouraged more students to attend graduate school. But experts are in no position to make an observation after only one year of the program. They should at least give it another year to observe results.

Politicians claim there is no evidence that the summer grants have lifted graduation rates. Yet  Eric Bettinger, a researcher for the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggests that there is a significant positive correlation between the application of Pell Grants and the drop-out rates among low-income college students.

Students graduate with an average of 23,186 dollars of debt (excluding federal sponsored loans such as the PLUS loans). This represents an increase of about five percent in 2003, according to finaid.org. This is high enough already without getting rid of Pell Grants.

Higher education is a priority right now, and measures must be taken today to offer solutions for tomorrow to compete with other nations. We cannot abandon programs that are only in their infancy. Obama and Congress: leave the Pell Grants as is for at least one more year before making an unsubstantiated decision to cut funding.

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