Without immediate Congressional action, the Pell Grant program will see a $5.7 billion cut next academic year, slashing the maximum aid award for a Pell Grant recipient by $845. A more than 15 percent reduction to the program would eliminate Pell Grant access to hundreds of thousands of students while millions more will have their awards deeply cut.
Pell Grants are the cornerstone of federal financial aid, currently enabling nine million students to afford higher education and post-secondary job training at a time when our economy is currently in dire need of skilled professionals.
This economic downturn has resulted in an increase of one million students in two years receiving Pell Grants to help pay for college. At the same time, the business sector is calling for more college-educated workers. The Business Roundtable reports that 65 percent of employers require an associate's degree or higher for the majority of available jobs. Even in the current economy, many mid-level skill jobs are not being filled.
In order to address the shortage, young people need training, low-skilled workers need new skills, and many laid-off workers need retraining - the kind of help they can get from an associate's or bachelor's degree, or some other higher education credential.
Earlier this year Congress enacted legislation that provides annual increases to the maximum Pell Grant award, and sets a $5,550 maximum award level for students from the lowest income backgrounds for this coming year. That $5,550 maximum will be nothing but an empty promise if the funding gap is not filled.
If our country is to emerge from our economic downturn, we must invest in the students and workers who are the future of our workforce. Congress must take swift action to fill the $5.7 billion Pell Grant funding gap by the end of the year.