Federal Pell Grant Program: How The Debt Ceiling Debate Affects You or Someone You Know

It was announced this morning that House Republicans called a floor vote on their revamped Debt Ceiling bill for sometime today. Since this debate has began, the Federal Pell Grant program has been on the chopping block and it is clear that it will remain there in today’s House vote.

The Federal Pell Grant program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. According to the programs website, students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions.

What makes Pell Grants unique is those who receive them do not have to pay them back after graduation.

When the program began 30 years ago, the Pell Grant’s had the ability to cover almost three-fourths of the cost of attending  four years at a public college. Today, however, the maximum award from the program only covers about a third of the cost. 63% of Pell recipients take out other loans to pay for their schooling.

The program is open to students of all races and genders, but nearly half of African Americans pursuing an undergraduate degree receive Pells, as do 40 percent of Latino undergrads.

When the 2012 fiscal budget was up for debate, things were looking pretty good for the Pell Grant program. Overall, Obama wanted to raise Pell funding by more than $5 billion dollars. House Republicans,  however, wanted to lower the maximum Pell grant to $4,705 and cut other education spending by $4.9 billion. The program ended up taking a $4 billion hit.

However, Congress’s failure to pass this year’s budget has kept the Pell Grant program in limbo, showing up on college bills as being present but with no amount assigned to it.

If  Pell grants are cut down, not only will fewer students be able to go to college but the students benefitting financially from the program currently will have a tough time finishing.

Students who have not even started packing for college in the Fall may have to reevaluate their financial situation before they swipe into their dorms.  Colleges will have to roll back a portion of their financial-aid offers if the Pell Grant program gets cut down.

Michigan State’s financial aid-director, Rick Shipman, told The Chronicle of Higher Education  that Michigan State would have to reduce the financial-aid packages offered to more than 9,000 students if cuts to the Pell program are enacted. Most of those students are already receiving the university’s maximum aid award, he said.

For politicians who are so invested in the future of this nation, it appears that they are looking over one detail; the generation who is going to run it. It does not make sense to cut funding from education or programs that help students pay for the outrageous price of public and private colleges today.

Further, I would be willing to bet my own college education that this issue would be less contested if the majority of its recipients were not minorities.

Everyone comes from different backgrounds and not all families have an equal start when it comes to raising money for their students education. There is certainly an underlying theme of elitism in the Pell Grant debates, because by cutting scholarship funding for minorities it returns higher education to the white-privilege opportunity it once was.