May 042011
 
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

In early April, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released his plan to slash spending across the board in order to reduce our ballooning national debt.

Congressman Ryan has been called “courageous” for his proposal that would purportedly cut $4.4 trillion in spending over the next decade. The programs that Ryan has targeted are designed to help the poor and the elderly. There is nothing courageous about that.

House Republicans showed their vehement approval by voting 235-4 in support of the bill. Conservatives have yet again shown their true colors by throwing their near-unanimous support behind a plan that would harm the people who need assistance the most.

Take for example the proposal to slash funding for federal Pell grants by 62 percent, which would leave funding for the program at its lowest levels since 1998. According to the Department of Education, such cuts would render 1.4 million students who previously qualified for the grants ineligible in the coming school year.

According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, “Inadequate need-based grant funding causes declines in bachelor’s degree attainment.” It is estimated that Ryan’s cuts would reduce the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by low-income students by about 61,000 each year.

Chairman Ryan and others who propose such draconian cuts claim that Pell grants are responsible for the dramatic rises in college tuition costs. However, the vast majority of studies that have examined the root cause of risings tuition costs have found no correlation between Pell grants and rising tuition at public schools.

Since the Great Recession, overall state funding for higher education has been reduced by 14 percent, leaving schools little choice but to pass the extra costs on to students. Presently, Colorado is ranked 48th in the U.S. when it comes to funding for higher education per full-time student.

Roughly two-thirds of all Pell grant recipients go to public institutions. When faced with higher tuition costs, these students are forced to either withdraw from school or take on a great deal of personal debt. Without the availability of decent jobs upon graduating, the prospect of taking on so much debt becomes a risky proposition.

Since 2001, average tuition rates have nearly doubled. As a result of the rising costs, a students who receive the maximum Pell grant today would have about 32 percent of their tuition and fees covered by the grant, compared with more than 50 percent in 1980.

I understand that the national debt is a dire issue and that difficult and unpopular cuts are a necessity. Cutting funding for Pell grants is a bad decision, though. By taking away a lifeline for students who desperately need the assistance, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

This is because college graduates contribute to a more productive society. In economics, the term is “human capital,” and it’s one of the most significant determinants of a country’s ability to achieve its highest and most efficient levels of production.

College graduates don’t just make more money. They also pay a great deal more in taxes than non-graduates. Our great and fearless bearded leader Tony Frank loves to illustrate this point. Frank often mentions that for every dollar in public funding that a student receives as an investment in their education, that same graduate will pay an average of $10 in taxes as the direct result of the higher incomes he’ll learn upon having a degree.

The 5,500 students at CSU and 9 million students nationwide who receive federal Pell grants are not becoming dependent on unwarranted government handouts. Rather, these students should be viewed as an investment in our future ability to be a vibrant, productive society.

Joe Vajgrt is a junior journalism major. He’s also poor, so he’s very grateful for Pell grants. His column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:43 pm

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