Pell Grants Needed for Low-income Students
Jesse Jackson | 6/14/2019, 8:50 a.m.
Nuts. There may be fancier words to describe Donald Trump's latest lunacy -- but just plain "nuts" is most accurate. The president decided, overnight, that he wanted the United States to go "back to the Moon, then Mars." To help pay for it, he called on Congress to cut an additional $1.9 billion out of the funds designated to pay for Pell Grants -- the grants that help students from low-income families pay for college. For those children, for the country, for our future, this is just simply nuts.
Pell Grants provide students from families making under $50,000 a year, a small grant -- up to$ 5,775 maximum -- to help pay for college. Most of it goes to families making far less than that -- $20,000 or less. It aids the ambitious children of low-income families in rural and urban areas to lift themselves above their circumstances.
With the cost of college rising far faster than incomes, the grant levels are far too small. When first created, a Pell Grant could cover up 92 percent of state college costs, now it covers only 29 percent. Students from families that are not wealthy are forced to take on greater and greater debt to pay for the education that everyone agrees they need. Student debt -- now at about $1.6 trillion -- is greater than the amount owed to credit cards or in auto loans. One result is that a smaller percentage of children from low-income families are going to college, and more and more of those that do go find that they simply can't afford to finish. America, which led the world in education, now finds itself falling behind, not because the kids are lazy or stupid, but because the so-called adults are making advanced education affordable only for the affluent. Trump's cuts only add insult to this injury.
The administration justifies the cuts -- which are added to the $2 billion Trump's budget proposal already would cut from Pell Grant funds -- because there is a surplus in the Pell Grant accounts, stemming in part because the Obama administration stopped subsidizing private lenders and because fewer kids from low-income families can afford to go to college. The administration promises that there will be no cuts in the grant levels of current recipients.
That is a far remove from what is needed. The surplus should be devoted to raising the grant levels to make it possible for more kids to afford college, and even that would be insufficient. The Pentagon says the endless war in Afghanistan -- the one that Trump promised to end -- costs about $45 billion a year. Common sense would suggest bringing the troops home, saving the money, and using a part of it to increase Pell funding so that average grant levels could be raised. The country -- and the young -- would be better served if the administration adopted the proposal of Bernie Sanders and others and worked with states to make public colleges tuition free -- as they are in Germany and other advanced industrial countries.
Trump woke up one day and decided it would be neat to return to space, as he tweeted, "in a BIG WAY." Terrific. But to do that by raiding funds dedicated to supporting the college education of children of low-wage workers isn't making America great again. It is just plain nuts.
(You can write to the Rev. Jesse Jackson in care of this newspaper or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RevJJackson.)