Cuts to funds will likely raise tuition

Published 11:09 am Friday, August 5, 2011

Recently, Riverland Community College, like all colleges in the Minnesota State Colleges and universities system, suffered a 10-percent cut in public funding after the state government completed the higher education bill.

Our college expressed concerns that four straight years of cuts would pass a greater financial burden onto students. These cuts make tuition increases inevitable and could price many students out of postsecondary education opportunities.

A redeeming feature for many students has been financial aid, especially Pell Grants. Unfortunately, as national officials negotiate the debt ceiling package, Pell Grants are at risk. The Pell Grant program is targeted because of recent increases in program costs; however, 40 percent of these increases are the direct result of the economic downturn. When millions of Americans lost their jobs and saw incomes decline, the Pell Grant program responded as designed — ensuring access to education and training when jobs were scarce. In turn, cutting Pell Grant awards or eligibility will reduce access to college, undermine the economy and lower college completion rates after colleges had pledged to improve those rates.

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Pell Grants make college possible for nearly 10 million Americans; Riverland has more than 1,600 students receiving Pell Grants that cover 32.8 percent of their estimated total budgets. These grants enable the neediest students to get the postsecondary education required to increase their earning potential and keep America competitive in the global economy. Thirty years ago, the maximum Pell Grant covered nearly three-fourths of the cost to attend a four-year public college. Today, even after recent increases to the program, the Pell Grant covers only about a third. In addition, Pell Grant recipients are currently more than twice as likely as other students to acquire additional loan debt. Cutting Pell Grants at this time — either through a reduction in the maximum award or through harmful eligibility changes — will reduce the number of people who can attend college and earn a degree.

Education is the one sure social elevator to a better career and life. The Pell Grant program is essential to ensuring the elevator keeps helping less-affluent Americans.

Pell grants vital

The American Association of Community Colleges recently published the importance of the grant program to students attending community colleges. Highlights include the following:

—The percentage of low-income high school graduates enrolling in college the fall following graduation has risen from 31.2 percent in 1975 to 54.1 percent in 2009.

—The majority of students receiving Pell Grants in 2007-2008 were White (46.3 percent).

—Nearly 61 percent of Pell Grant recipients attending community colleges in 2009–2010 were below the poverty threshold for a family of four ($20,000).

—The $5,550 Pell Grant in 2010-2011 accounted for just 28.9 percent of a student’s estimated total budget for nine months of education.

If you or someone you know receive/received Pell Grants as financial aid or if you are concerned about Pell cuts, Riverland encourages people to sign the Ed Trust “Stand Up for Students” online petition. There is a link to the petition on Riverland’s website: