Protect Pell Grants: Protect the Middle Class

Cutting the Pell Grant program – the ticket to the American Dream for 9.4 million college students this year alone – is exactly what you don’t want to do in an economic recession, said a panel of U.S. Senators, college presidents, and students on Tuesday.

“This is America’s future,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD. “It’s not about the next election – it’s about the next generation…. President Obama was right (when he said) we need to ‘out-educate’ to meet the challenges of the future.”

But Pell Grants are on the chopping block again as Obama and congressional leaders seek a budget deal that would reduce federal spending. Proposals under consideration might slash the size of the need-based tuition grants or increase the number of credits required to qualify.

It’s unclear how many students could be affected. Earlier this year, a budget proposal that passed the House would have lowered the maximum award from $5,500 to $3,040 and denied eligibility to 1.4 million current recipients, destroying the dreams of countless families.

“They want to cut Pell Grants enormously,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, warned Tuesday. “They want to keep tax breaks for the pampered and prosperous and nail Pell Grants.”

“We need you to lend your voices, your Blackberries, your iPhones, to reach out to Facebook, to Twitter, to lead your own revolution to preserve your future,” she urged students.

(Urge Congress to do the right thing! It’s not just about protecting Pell Grants: additional proposals to tax employer-sponsored health care or cut Social Security would be devastating to millions of middle-class working families.)

But it’s not just about the dreams of individual students, like Veronica Mora, a first-generation college student at St. Cloud University in Minnesota, who said on Tuesday, “Without the Pell Grant, I could not afford to continue. I could not afford to graduate and make my dreams come true.”

It’s also about the future of this country.

These students are the nation’s future taxpayers and homeowners. They are being trained for much-needed jobs in health services, education, law enforcement, and other fields.

“I don’t think you can say that you have the best interests of this country at heart and cut Pell Grants…It’s like cutting seed corn,” said Leo Morton, chancellor at University of Missouri-Kansas City.  “An educated workforce is essential to our survival,” agreed John Welty, president of the California State University, Fresno, where more than 50 percent of students rely on Pell to pay tuition.

A recent Georgetown University study shows that, by 2018, the United States will need 22 million new workers with college degrees to meet the burgeoning needs of employers – but it likely will fall short by 3 million.

“And that, quite simply, is something we can’t afford,” the authors wrote.