An estimated 8.7 million students around the country depend on the Federal Pell Grant to assist them in financing their college education. As beneficial as it is, such a far-reaching program is not cheap and its cost has become a hotly debated issue. Because Congress has yet to finalize their new budget, they have been passing a series of continuing resolutions (CR’s) which authorize the government to fund their agencies at current or reduced levels until either the resolution expires, or an appropriations bill is passed.
In December, Congress passed a CR that fully funds the 2011-12 maximum Pell award, but it expires on March 4th. Before the current CR runs out, Congress must either pass another CR or come to a decision on the FY2011 budget. Unfortunately, since funds for the Pell Grant are not disbursed before March 4th there’s a good chance that the new Congress could choose not to include the $5.7 billion Pell Grant shortfall in whatever spending measure they pass. If that happens, it could reduce the maximum Pell award up to $1,500.
Let’s put a human face to those figures. What’s really at stake here, if it doesn’t immediately affect you, is whether some of college students you know will be able to afford the books for their classes; whether a student on Pell will be able to spend their time after class studying in order to succeed and get the career they want, or if they’ll have to spend that time working another part-time job at the expense of their grades just to remain enrolled. Or, in some cases, whether or not they’ll be forced to give up their dreams of a college education.
This is one of the ways that Congress’ push for fiscal conservatism could have a direct and negative impact on you, your friends and your family. Nevertheless, the Pell Grant’s critical financial aid is currently on the chopping block, and unless the people of South Florida and across the nation can unite and engage our representatives in Congress it is likely that these funds will be cut. While the government definitely needs to take a stance and begin reducing our deficit, a grant that is crucial to the very students who will graduate and lead this country out of its debt is not a subsidy we should just sit back and idly watch get slashed.
Our staff at FIU’s Office of Governmental Relations is doing its best to advocate support for the Pell Grant, but we need your help. The students’ voices haven’t been heard in recent Congressional hearings, and that has to change. Contact your representatives, spread the message to your friends, co-workers and interest groups. We have an opportunity to stand up for and protect college students across the nation who are depending on Pell grants to keep them in school. If you’d like to help this cause, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s take an active role in defending our education benefits.