Washington Post Reporter Daniel de Vise had an interesting piece in the Washington Post Magazine last weekend on “Fixing Higher Education.” In addition to the article, Mr. de Vise did an online chat on this topic, and on his blog “College, Inc.” he has published a number of the comments he solicited from college presidents and others on this topic, including my comments on the “fixes.” There’s much that’s interesting and worthy of thoughtful consideration and robust debate among these ideas. I’m not going to reprise these points here, please click on the links.
But there’s another, more pernicious, set of “fixes” walking around the halls of Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and various statehouses these days. We need to pay more attention to the great damage that misguided lawmakers and regulators are about to wreak on college students and curricula in the name of budget reductions and accountability.
The absolutely worst idea is the slashing of Pell Grants that the Republicans in the House of Representatives think is a great way to help balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit.
This year, Trinity students received 1160 Pell Grants worth $5.2 million. Nearly 66% of all Trinity students depend upon Pell grants to help support their education. Congress proposes taking $845 out of each Pell Grant. The politicians who think that’s not much don’t understand what it takes for a student with financial need to put together enough money to attend class, buy books, pay for transportation and housing, get something to eat. Pell Grant students are not living high on the hog, like some other beneficiaries of federal monies (dare we get into federal contracts?). Pell grant recipients are among the hardest-working, least well-resourced of all college students.
I say to Congress, leave Trinity’s Pell Grant students alone!
Congress also proposes slashing other forms of federal financial aid. Trinity students have already suffered a reduction in LEAP funds, since the District of Columbia slashed its own contribution to the program last year, leaving a gap of about $500,000 that Trinity closed with Trinity grants. But Trinity already contributes more than $7 million to student financial aid, and most of that is in the form of discounts on tuition — we do not have real cash behind all those Trinity grants, we simply forego the revenues. Trinity has a very generous financial aid policy, but we cannot possibly cover losses of federal aid.
What’s really stupid about cutting student aid is the way in which is completely undermines this nation’s stated goal to be the world’s most well-educated nation. President Obama has made college access a priority, setting the bar high, calling for a 60% collegiate completion rate for all Americans by 2020. We will certainly fail to get even close to that goal, and we will backslide even more, if Pell Grants are reduced and other federal aid is slashed.
Pell Grants and other federal aid are not the reasons why the federal budget is horribly out of balance. This is a government that spent over one trillion dollars bailing out the banking industry, which is now paying obscene bonuses once again to the mavens of Wall Street. This government thinks nothing of spending more than one trillion dollars on funding the longest war in American history. And this government wants to take $845 apiece away from our neediest students? Give me a break!
There are more misguided “fixes” on the horizon, like standardizing the definition of a credit hour so that all courses will have to be exactly the same, freezing innovation, eliminating acceleration to degrees, stopping progress on academic innovation to be more efficient and effective.
I will write more on the “broken fixes” in subsequent blogs.