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COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – In a White House conference call Thursday, a special assistant on education policy to President Obama said plans are underway to reorganize student aid, make Pell Grants stronger and look for new incentives to help colleges control costs as one way to do a better job to address affordability for students.
For reporters who called into the White House conference call on the impacts the budget designed by Republican House Member Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, would have on the nation and each state, they heard Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy, speak about plans underway by the President to make college more affordable and effective, especially for students who don’t come from affluent families.
Of the four questions take from reporters today, when the U.S. House passed the Ryan budget mostly along party lines – 10 Republicans fled their party vote- the last one came from CGE on the challenges faced by students from working-class families who must juggle their work schedules with full course loads they take to qualify for Pell Grants and other student financial aid.
“Some critics of the President say that while his proposal to cut federal funding to universities that don’t control costs is well intentioned, a more practical policy that would help working-class students better manage their course loads in light of their work schedules and reduce the student debt they may incur along the way, would be to allow this student population, who don’t come from more affluent families, to spread their course loads out over time instead of packing them together so they can qualify for Pell Grants and other tuition assistance.”
“The president’s proposal is to look at new incentives about colleges that control cost and do better to address affordability for their students,” Rodriguez said. He said tuition is an area that has grown over 136 percent over last 20 years.
“The President is proposing to reorganize some of our campus-based aid funding to leverage $10 billion in student aid toward schools that do a few things: 1) do a better job of promoting value, in terms of their tuition and their degrees; 2) do more to address and hold tuition constant, and 3) do more to support services and success for low-income Pell Grant eligible students and others.”
“We believe we really need a comprehensive approach to this challenge, so part of it is reorganizing our student aid, but part of it is doing more to make sure that the Pell Grant stays strong,” Rodriguez said.
“We’ve grown the Pell Grant over past few years by over $900 and the number of students taking advantage of Pell has gone up by over half. We believe that the Ryan budget is the wrong direction for Pell Grants and really threatens to compromise educational access and attainment at the higher education level for too many of our students.”
Looming education cost bubble
College costs, like health care costs, keep rising over time, raising the hurdle to higher education that increasingly becomes unaffordable to students from low-income or working-class families. Some estimates peg student debt at $1 trillion or more, which leave students who do graduate with a debt load that is equivalent to many home mortgages. Further complicating matters is a lackluster job market that college graduates are finding hard to break into.
Like previous so-called bubbles like the dot.com bubble of the 1990s or the housing bubble of the recent past that burst and sent the nation careening in a downward spiral it has yet to recover from, many say the next bubble to explode is the education bubble.
While some blame the rising costs of faculty for it, others say college costs are rising due to building programs and the rapid increase in administrative and support staff salaries.
While all these factors play a part in the increasing unaffordability of college, the reality of student aid is that it is a non-recourse loan, meaning students cannot renegotiate it, refinance it or shed it, even in bankruptcy.
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