Rebuilding a strong workforce and economy should be the top priority of any federal budget extension. However, the House of Representatives passed an extension that makes deep and devastating cuts to the Pell Grant program that would be effective this coming school year. Pell Grants are the Federal governments corner stone financial aid program that 9.4 million college students rely on each year to pay for the college courses that are fueling our workforce and economic recovery.
The cuts slash the maximum award by $845, a little more than 15%, for the students who can afford it the least. Next school year, a student currently receiving the $5,550 maximum award would see their aid dropped to $4,705. Because of the severity of these cuts, the average Pell award will drop $785 while hundreds of thousands of students would lose access to their grant entirely.
Millions of these students are already at the tipping point; many would be forced to drop out of school.
As an alarming side effect, this cut will put Pell funding on a trajectory to reverse recently passed legislation that promises $64 billion in Pell aid over the next decade. Based on initial estimates by the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities, by 2017 students would see a $2,090 cut to the currently projected maximum award of $6,105 - around the same time current high school upper classmen and women are expected to graduate. Cutting the aid programs that encourage students to enroll and stay in college will impact our economic recovery in the long term.
Education drives economic growth. Eighty percent of the fastest growing jobs in America demand training above a high school level. Current estimates show America needs 22 million more degrees by 2018, however we are on pace to be 3 million short because of high college costs.
In the current economy, 43 states have already cut funding to higher education, pushing more costs onto students themselves. Rising costs will prevent over three million college qualified students from low and moderate-income backgrounds from getting a degree this decade. Pell Grant funding must be maintained in order to deliver the skilled workers our economy demands.
As the Senate considers their stopgap budget measure, they must not cut the Pell Grants that millions are already anticipating on to pay for school as the chamber considers its budget extension.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed their short-term budget extension on February 19th 20011 by a vote of 235 to 189.