The dire effects of cutting aid to education

Mar 27, 2011 Issues: Education

College students are finding a cautionary note on financial aid letters this spring -- and its origin is the budget bill House Republicans approved last month. Financial assistance, schools are explaining, could change based on what happens in Congress. And it won't be for the better.

Pell Grants, which help students pay for higher education, are on the chopping block to the tune of 15%.

College students aren't the only ones who should be worried. No age group has been spared Republicans' education budget ax -- from toddlers in early learning programs to young adults pursuing higher education.

At a time when college tuition is rising far faster than inflation and economists nationwide are warning about the competitiveness of our educational system, it is hard to understand how House Republicans can argue that slashing vital education programs will help our economy.

The trends are disturbing. The U.S. is now ninth in the world in the percentage of young people with a college degree. We used to be first.

A quarter of young adults in the U.S. aren't finishing high school. In math and science, we are far behind other developed nations. Estonia and Slovenia were among the nations ranked above us in a recent assessment of math and science levels among 15-year-olds.

Everyone agrees with the need to rein in the deficit. But draining the education system clearly is not the "tough choice" we must make.

Republicans' budget proposal cuts at the heart of job creation -- both now and into the future. Head Start, serving almost a million at-risk children up to age 5 as well as some pregnant women, would be reduced by 14%.

That could mean 218,000 children would lose access to educational, health and nutritional services. Another 55,000 Head Start teachers would be out of work.

The $2.4 billion in proposed cuts to K-12 education programs would hit children from low-income families particularly hard. Title I grants, which help pay for teachers, tutors and after-school programs at struggling schools, would be cut by $700 million, affecting nearly a million at-risk students. Ten thousand teachers and teacher aides could lose their jobs.

The Republican proposal also turns the clock back on our efforts to make college more affordable and accessible. Thousands of recipients of the Pell Grant, which provides financial assistance to low-income students going to college and university, would see their award cut by $845.

Michigan schools, which are facing steep budget challenges, would not be held harmless. At Lawrence Tech University, for example, nearly 700 undergraduate students, about a fifth of the bachelor degree population there, depend on the Pell awards to help pay for their education. In the entire 12th District I represent, which includes parts of Macomb and Oakland Counties, more than 20,000 students received Pell Grants this school year.

For newly accepted students pouring over college financial aid packages, aid offers would drop by $785. For some who have limited access to private loan assistance, that could be the deciding factor in skipping college entirely.

Look no further than the January unemployment data for evidence that's the wrong choice economically. Unemployment among workers 25 and up with a college degree was 4.2%. Among those whose highest education was a high school diploma, it was 9.4%. And for those who never graduated high school, the figure jumped to 14.2%.

We should be investing more -- not less -- in our students.