College Aid Cutbacks
Pell Grants are one of the largest sources of federal help for low-income college students, and the most valuable form of aid, because the money doesn’t have to be paid back. But the level of aid is increasingly out of sync with the level of need.
Last week, the College Board reported that Pell Grants fell last year, for the first time in six years. The cuts were about $100 a year per recipient, on average, and came on top of other miserliness. It’s been four years since Congress last increased the maximum annual Pell Grant — by a mere $50 — bringing the top grant for a student who has no parental support to $4,050. Meanwhile, college costs are up 35 percent from five years ago. Tuition and fees at a typical four-year public university are closing in on $6,000 this year.
The recent cutbacks were set in motion in 2004, when the Department of Education reduced the number of students deemed eligible for Pell Grants and the amounts they were qualified to receive. Pell Grants now cover about a third of the average costs at a four-year public school, compared with 42 percent five years ago.
Government loans also have not kept pace with rising costs. Subsidized loans accounted for only 55 percent of student borrowing in the most recent academic year, down from 69 percent 10 years earlier.
Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that the solution to the nation’s growing income inequality is more education. That’s a gross oversimplification, but if they really believed it — and cared about a remedy — would federal college aid be declining? As things stand, privatization of college lending is the administration goal that is being advanced. As government aid has declined, loans from banks and other private lenders have soared, climbing to 20 percent of all education borrowing last year, up from 12 percent five years earlier.
The result is towering debt. The same bachelor’s degree will cost a student borrower far more than a student who can afford to pay. That’s not a path to greater equality.
That about says it.