LETTER: Cuts to Pell Grants would strand youth in low-income jobs

Thursday, July 14, 2011 | 5:54 p.m. CDT; updated 10:20 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 15, 2011

Access to postsecondary education is an essential element of the upward mobility that characterizes the American dream.

Higher education has the power to change individual lives, break the cycle of poverty for families and advance our nation’s economy.  

Community college graduates earn an average of $7,900 more a year than their peers with a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Professional license and certificate-holders earn 27 percent more than those with a bachelor's degree alone.

For many Americans, however, access to higher education is an empty promise without financial support. For more than 30 years, the federal government has primarily provided that support through the Pell Grant program.  

More than 8 million low- and moderate-income students nationwide rely on Pell Grants to help them achieve their educational goals; in Missouri, about 160,000 students receive Pell grants.

One of the ideas being discussed as federal legislators grapple with how to balance the budget and address the deficit is changing the Pell Grant program, either by reducing award amounts or increasing the level of financial need students must demonstrate to receive an award.  

These changes would eliminate many students’ access to higher education, leaving them stranded in low-wage jobs or unable to get jobs at all.

The proposed changes would also have a major negative impact on Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program.  

Depending on how Pell Grant eligibility criteria or award amounts change, the A+ program may become about 10 percent more expensive to compensate for lost federal funds. This will likely compound the problem of reduced access to higher education.

Missouri’s community colleges are open-access institutions that serve a remarkably diverse population. We are deeply concerned about how cuts to the Pell Grant program will affect our students’ ability to achieve the American dream, and we are encouraging our federal lawmakers to continue to support the program.  

We hope that you will do the same.

Zora Mulligan is executive director of the Missouri Community College Association.

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