The Bush administration next week will propose the largest Pell Grant increase in 30 years, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Thursday.
Top grants for the neediest students would increase by $550, to $4,600, for fall 2008, the secretary said in a speech at North Carolina State University. The president’s budget blueprint then envisions small annual increases thereafter until the maximum grant reaches $5,400 in five years.
“Higher education costs have made it more difficult for low and middle-income families to afford college,” she said. “This is real money that will help more low-income students achieve the dream of a college education.”
Bush is due to present his 2008 federal budget covering all agencies, including education, on Feb. 5 in Washington, D.C.
“Over the last 25 years, college tuition increases have outpaced inflation, family income, even health care,” Spellings said. “Young people are starting out in life saddled with debt — making it difficult to start a family, buy a home, plan for the future or even continue their education.”
The secretary did not say how the administration would pay for the increase, but the budget blueprint is likely to provide these details.
In 2005, President Bush recommended a $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant over a five-year period, though the president and Congress never agreed on how to implement the plan that year.
Yesterday’s announcement comes just days after the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives proposed a $260 increase in the top grant for 2007. Democrats had hailed that move as the first significant step toward raising the maximum grant, which has remained at $4,050 for nearly five years.
But Spellings also said students need better information about colleges and universities, including data on how colleges are spending their tuition dollars.
“Just like any other investment of enterprise, we need meaningful data to better mange the system,” she said.
Spellings cited the work of her Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which last year called for increases in need-based aid. The panel also recommended a less bureaucratic student aid system with more accessible information.
She said she intends to convene a national summit to discuss the commission’s recommendations. One goal of that discussion is to promote affordability and accountability among government, colleges and universities, governing boards, business leaders and states.
“States, institutions and the federal government must work together to increase need-based aid,” she said. “The president’s call for a Pell Grant increase will achieve this goal.”
Spellings also devoted part of her speech to college access, particularly the problems of many at-risk high school students. “The problem of access begins in our nation’s high schools,” she said, noting that half of all Black and Hispanic students do not graduate on time.
As a result, colleges, students and taxpayers spend more than $1 billion a year on remedial education, according to Spellings. To combat this problem, the administration also is targeting increased high school rigor as a major priority.
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