Obama’s Pell-Grant Cuts to Summer Aid Too Premature

The short answer is yes. But the longer answer must consider that the Pell Grant Program, thanks in large part to last year’s introduction of additional grants for summer school students, has grown tremendously — so much so that, according to the administration, it faces a $20 billion deficit for next year.
Cutting aid for summer classes is estimated to save about $8 billion starting in the 2012-13 academic year and around $60 billion over the next decade. The other major change Obama has propose is reducing loan subsidies to grad-school and professional students, who now don’t pay interest on their loans as long they’re still in school. Would free up about another $30 billion over the next decade.
In light of the kind of take-few-prisoners budget-slashing expected — partly to slow the growth of the national deficit, and partly in an effort to move further toward the political right before next year’s election — higher education spending could certainly have fared worse in Obama’s proposal.
In contrast, the Republican response this week reduces the maximum Pell Grant to $4,705, or about 15 percent of what it is now — and for this upcoming academic year, not the year after, as Obama suggested. Even deeper cuts, under the GOP proposal, should be expected to follow.
But we still can’t help but bristle at the prospect of such extensive, long-term cuts to the system. Pell Grants affect roughly the bottom half of the income bracket; according to most recent data from the UC Office of the President (from 2008-09), fully 93 percent of freshmen with family incomes under $48,000 benefit from the program.
Capitol officials are quick to point out that there’s little evidence that summer aid has helped speed up graduation rates across the country — but given that it’s such a new incentive, there’s also no evidence that it doesn’t.
If immediate changes to the system are necessary, which they likely are, this board would prefer to see the more grants tied to concrete academic progress: extending grants only to those on track to graduate in less than five years, or to those who maintain a minimum GPA are two possibilities. Both would be fairer tests of trimming the fat, and both would preserve Obama’s campaign goal of offering a college education to every student that wants and is willing to work hard for one.