Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Point/CounterPoint - Pell Grants

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Splashlife asked me to take part in their series called "Point/Counterpoint" to discuss the call to cut Pell Grants. There is a heated debate going on in D.C. about cutting Pell, and it's related to austerity measures that our 'leaders' are trying to implement. I am adamantly opposed to cutting Pell Grants. Dr. Andrew Gillen, on the other hand, has a different take. Andy is at The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), and he graciously agreed to argue against my points. Andy provided a summation on CCAP's blog of his take on Pell (here's his full argument on Splashlife). 

Here are some important points I made in favor of supporting increases to Pell: 

At a time when the U.S. government should be investing in its citizens and the country’s overall infrastructure, it is doing the exact opposite. After bailing out the banks and Wall Street, the very institutions and individuals who were responsible for the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the government, both at local and national levels, now faces tremendous budget problems. A new and dangerous set of austerity proposals is sweeping across the country. These budget cuts are affecting universities and community colleges, and forcing them to increase tuition to combat the loss of financial support from government coffers. One critical source of funding for higher education – Pell Grants – is under attack. Pell Grants have long served to support access to higher education for low-income students. Presently, a ferocious fight is taking place in Congress, as Senator Rand Paul and others are proposing to significantly decrease the amount of funding allocated for Pell Grants. If funding for Pell Grants is cut, that would mean denying less-advantaged Americans access to higher education.

There is also the issue of the for-profits benefiting from Pell Grants, something that needs attention. That point is critical:

One of the legitimate criticisms of the Pell Grant program is that the for-profit college industry (oftentimes referred to as proprietary or career schools) benefits considerably while contributing little of value to higher education in America. There is a growing body of data that shows that many students do not have success in finding work (if they even graduate – dropout rates at these schools are quite high), and are saddled with high levels of student loan debt. Moreover, a recent study published by The Institute for College Access and Success  found that while default rates are on the rise among all students, the default rates for students who attend for-profit schools are significantly higher. For-profits also invest far more capital in marketing than in their instructors. Despite these obvious deficiencies in the for-profit education sector, in the past decade for-profits have seen Pell Grant aid increase eightfold. According to the U.S. Department of Education this sector receives 25 percent of the funds. But the problems with the for-profit industry are not insurmountable. Policymakers should come up with creative solutions that would hold these institutions accountable for their federal funding. Ideal solutions would have the potential of creating incentives for for-profits to invest more in their instructors, improve job placement rates, and lower the student borrower default rates. That would hold the institutions accountable, without hurting recipients of Pell Grants.  
I hope you read the piece - both my take and Andy's - in its entirety.

Finally, I wish to thank Andy for agreeing to take part in this important debate, as well as The CCAP for featuring and commenting on number of my pieces in previous months (links below).

"Trapped in Debt," originally posted on June 23, 2010

Links for 5/7/10 (Andy is the one who  made a comment about my work. The way he describes what I'm doing is quite humorous)


Nando said...


What happened to your entry seeking students of color living abroad? I was simply going to ask if you would be willing to join me overseas. JK.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Nando - first, we already know we will be hanging out and living together overseas. Duh. Second, I think I've found enough respondents for what I need, so I deleted it. Entiendes? :)

Nando said...

Understood. It is ironic that the pigs who entice young people to a lifetime of debt servitude are allowed to stay in the US and thrive, while the grads seek shelter in foreign lands. Shouldn't the gluttonous fraudsters be banished/exiled to a gulag?