Bush’s Budget Creates ‘Greater Hurdles’ for Students, Group Says
By freezing funding for federal student aid President Bush’s budget creates even “greater hurdles” for students, says Kate Rube, associate for the State PIRG’s Higher Education Project.
“Students at colleges around the country need more help than President Bush has proposed to give them,” Rube said. “Thousands of students are struggling to pursue the dream of a college degree, but without additional student aid, realizing that dream will force more students to take on additional loan debt and work longer hours.”
Already, the average undergraduate student borrows nearly $17,000 in student loan debt, with 39 percent of borrowers graduating with unmanageable debt, according to a report from the State PIRGs’ Higher Education Project. In addition, half of all full-time working students are working long enough hours to hurt their academic achievement.
The State PIRGs’ Higher Education Project is calling on Congress to prioritize making college affordable by increasing funding for student aid and increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500. “Providing for additional student aid funding, which will result in more college graduates in our country, is one of the best investments our federal government can make,” Rube said.
Bush’s FY05 budget, however, would freeze the maximum Pell Grant award at $4,050 for the second year in a row, as well as freeze funding for federal work-study, graduate student scholarships and campus-based student aid programs. In addition, the budget would eliminate funding for the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program, which provides matching funds to states for need-based grant aid.
Pell Grants, which assist more than 4 million needy students nationwide, have declined in purchasing power over the past three decades. In the 1970s, the maximum Pell Grant covered more than 80 percent of the costs at a four-year public institution. Today, the maximum award of $4,050 covers less than 40 percent of those same costs.
Over the last year, tuition at the average public college has increased by 14 percent, while the average private institution’s tuition has increased by 6 percent. State budget cuts to higher education last year were among the most severe in decades, with state spending on higher education dropping 2.1 percent overall, the first decline since 1992-1993.
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