Win a Little, Lose a Little: A Familiar Fight for College Budgeting

    Illustrations by Michael Capparelli/Guardian

    The higher education sphere captured only small victories in
    President George W. Bush’s national budget proposal, which is still a grim
    picture for the waning scene of college accessibility, affordability and
    quality.

    While horns sounded for the biggest of those victories —
    Bush pumping $2.6 billion into federal Pell Grant coffers — the overall budget
    resembled a budgetary stalemate for college officials.

    Where the Pell Grant gained, other programs lost. To free up
    funding for the Pell Grant, the Perkins Loan, a reduced-interest loan for
    lower-income students, was marked for elimination (as Bush did last year),
    along with a handful of other programs serving poor students.

    Patting himself on the back, Bush spoke highly of his Pell
    Grant boost, one of the largest and most lucrative grants available to
    low-income college students. In fact, his adoration rung so deeply that he
    jumped at the chance to expand the grant into another self-purported bright
    idea: Pell Grant Jr. The proposed program, named Pell Grants for Kids, opens up
    $300 million for high achieving children in low performing K-12 schools.

    As with the Pell Grant, the children will be able to use
    their awards flexibly, and with this new program attend any private school of
    their choice.

    But how will little ol’ Pell Grant Jr. pay for the towering
    college tuition that he will undoubtedly want, once he’s done enjoying free
    private school? If Bush is able to bypass heavy congressional protest over his
    budget, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant will be axed. The grant
    is administered directly by campus financial aid offices, as are the Perkins Loans.
    But now, Bush has decidedly focused the fiscal spotlight on federal holdings.

    In a call to the national press, Secretary of Education
    Margaret Spellings said Bush was sticking to his Pell Grant guns, using
    “tried-and-true” as a measuring stick to tackle problems of college
    affordability.

    The Pell Grant, she said, was tapped as one of the most
    successful programs, and was budgeted as one. Its success was lauded to the
    point that Pell Grant for Kids was born. But the award increase each student
    would see from Bush’s proposal and the impact Pell Grant for Kids could
    possibly make on accessibility are both negligible, compared to the chokehold
    college finances already have over today’s students.

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