With Rising College Costs, Federal Assistance Programs Must be Maintained

Nov 29, 2011 Issues: Education, Higher Education


Tomorrow, the Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee will be meeting to examine the rising cost of higher education. In recent years, increases in postsecondary tuition and associated costs have steadily outpaced inflation, making it increasingly more difficult for students to attend and complete college – especially for students and families with limited means. Without federal assistance programs like Pell Grants and student loans, millions of students nationwide would not be able to attend and complete college.

Democrats have worked hard to help students keep pace with the rising costs. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2010 (SAFRA), increased the maximum Pell Grant award, and ended taxpayer subsidies to banks so that federal resources can be directly invested in students in the form of direct loans and the income-based repayment program, which helps students pay off loans more responsibly.

House Republicans, however, have attempted to roll back investments in our nation’s students, seeing the decades-old federal student assistance programs as wasteful spending.

Arbitrary cuts in student aid disproportionately hit low-income students, and, in the words of Worcester Polytechnic Institute president and CEO Dennis Berkey, would be tantamount to “eating our own seed corn.” Writing for The Washington Post, Berkey says that federal aid programs like Pell:

…are an investment in the next generation. They are an investment in our country. They are an investment in the human capital needed to restore our economy and our social fabric.

…These programs contribute mightily to our nation’s bottom line. They create highly skilled workers. They stimulate our economy. They even help create jobs. Clearly, it is time for a reminder as to why these programs are so vital.

While the economic impact of these programs is critical, the social impact may be even more important. During the past 30 years, social mobility in America has become stagnant, with a tiny minority taking an increasingly large share of economic wealth, and a growing segment of our population completely closed off from college. The success of the American Dream, its very existence even, depends on our collective ability to throw open the doors of higher education.

Indeed, a recent study by the College Board reports that the median income of families with only a high school diploma is only 48 percent of the median income for families with a bachelor’s degree or more. The bottom line: a college degree is the gateway to growth and prosperity.

Now more than ever, in the face of rising tuition costs, Congress must resist making cuts in federal financial assistance programs and ensure as many Americans as possible have the opportunity for a higher education.