Keep College Affordable: Don’t Cut Student Loans!
As a student who receives financial aid, I was extremely concerned when I heard that the proposed federal budget cuts include cuts to the Federal Pell Grant program. A majority of students at Wesleyan receive some sort of financial aid; because of the recession, more and more parents are finding it difficult to pay for their children’s education. Most of us agree that education is important, and a college education is crucial not only in terms of development, but in terms of job prospects. So, what exactly is going to be cut, and how will it affect financial aid students like me?
The House of Representatives has already passed a short-term budget proposal that includes cuts to the Federal Pell Grant program; however, the actual 2012 budget is still under review, and both Houses of Congress are currently negotiating to pass it. If the current form of the spending bill were passed, all cuts would go into effect this year; for students with year-round Pell Grants, the cuts would immediately affect their ability to attend summer term. Currently, the maximum Pell Grant award is $5,550; the proposed cuts, under the version the House passed, would reduce that award to $4,705. The Federal Perkins Loan program would remain in place, but the interest rate, currently at five percent, would increase and the loans would no longer be subsidized. Moreover, if the proposed cuts were to be approved, students would accrue interest on loans while they are still in college at a higher rate.
The proposed cuts would reduce the award by a little more than 15 percent; although that may not seem like a large number, for students like me who qualify for full financial aid, it could mean that we are literally unable to afford college next year. Some students might lose eligibility for the Pell Grant entirely, as the funds are awarded on a need-basis and divided based on how much money is available; students who need only a little aid will be the first to be deemed ineligible, and they, too, may not be able to afford college next year. Students whose parents have a greater annual income or other assets often find it harder to pay for college in general because they do not qualify for many loans. Certain students, like one of my cousins, choose to attend community college because the tuition cost is half that of private colleges. Others do not attend college at all.
The cuts would affect the colleges themselves, too: schools rely on federal aid to help cover students’ tuition; without Pell Grants, they would be unable to offer as much aid to students, which would lessen their attractiveness to applicants. Additionally, they may have to turn away qualified applicants who would require more aid than those schools can provide. Some schools, in preparation for the budget cuts, have already elected to remove Federal Pell Grants from their financial aid packages, forcing students to seek additional means of funding.
Obviously, I have a personal stake in the outcome of Congress’s decision. However, every college student and every parent of a college student should be concerned. Colleges like Wesleyan that sport diverse campuses are enriched by the range of students who attend. Let’s face it: many students from many demographics need some sort of financial aid to attend college. Wesleyan students receive over $2 million in Pell Grant funding and over $750,000 in Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) funding in 2010-11. Proposed cuts would significantly affect this funding. Imagine what would happen if half the students at Wesleyan didn’t come back next year, and only the well-off students could afford to attend college? Schools like Princeton University would return to the elite character of earlier decades, but schools like Wesleyan would lose an integral part of their identity, one that attracts many students who make our campus the vibrant community that it is.
Alperstein is a member of the class of 2014.