EDITORIAL: Bush cuts Pell Grants
On Jan. 14, President Bush announced his intention to increase the maximum amount of federal Pell Grants from $4,050 to $4,550 over the next five years. These grants, which provide aid for lower-income students to attend public and private colleges and universities, currently benefit over five million students who receive between $400 and $4,050 annually . The cost of education is becoming insurmountable with in-state public tuition rising 10.5 percent to an average $5,132 this year and private school tuition rising an average of six percent to $20,082. In this environment, Mr. Bush's promise sounds like a good step on the surface, but further examination reveals flaws and gaping wholes in what is yet another inadequate federal program.
Mr. Bush's pledge 11 days ago is not the first he has made. While campaigning in 2000 under a budget surplus, he promised to raise Pell Grants to $5,100. In addition to a $413 billion federal budget deficit which the president promises to cut in half before his second term is over, the Pell Grant program currently has its own deficit of $4.3 billion. Mr. Bush says he also intends to reform the student loan system, but as with many domestic policy proposals, has given no plan as to how this will occur.
The Bush administration also drew criticism in the end of December for proposed changes to the formula that decides how financial aid need is determined. These changes could result in many families losing their grants or getting them reduced. Many of the affected students will be those who have families on the higher end of the low-income bracket.
Many questions now arise from Mr. Bush's proposal. First of all, how does he intend to fund this? Will he be giving money to deserving families simply by taking away from others? And will the $500 increase for the poorest families-which still does not even nearly cover the cost of even a public institution-make up for the elimination of other students' grants?
Another major issue is that Mr. Bush's $15 billion proposal will, in the end, only give a paltry number of students a relatively insignificant increase in aid. While $500 is certainly a significant chunk of a community college or state school's tuition bill, $500 will barely cover the cost of one month's rent or a semester's books. At a school like Brandeis, which now has the 10th most expensive tuition bill of $30,160 per year, $500 seems like pocket change. With room, board and other expenses, a student's bill will easily amount to over $41,000 a year.
The reality is that while Pell Grants are a necessary program, they simply do not solve the fundamental problem: For many people, education is unaffordable. Countless students attend public universities rather than choice private institutions because they can not pay the astronomical bills and others do not even have the luxury to receive higher education at all.
While in an ideal world the government would realize that this problem exists and would figure out a way to solve it, this will not happen-especially with a $413 billion federal deficit. Federal and state student loans alleviate part of the problem, but for many are unrealistic financial burdens at such a young age. The real solution lies in the private realm in grants and scholarships.
Brandeis, for example, projects to give out $51.2 million in financial aid in 2005. This aid will come in the form of either Brandeis Scholarships for merit or Brandeis Grants and Trustee Scholarships, awarded based on need and achievement by donations from alumni, parents and friends of the University. The donors for these awards and ones like them at other schools are the people who make higher education possible for many students across the nation.
While we remain hopeful that Mr. Bush and his administration will make real strides towards making higher education possible for everyone-not just the privileged middle and upper classes-we also should remember that private donations are the real heroes of the system.