Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

House reduces maximum award amount for Pell Grant


A recent decision by the United States House of Representatives to cut the maximum amount of money awarded to federal Pell Grant recipients has drawn sharp criticism from many in the education community and from local politicians.

On Feb. 22, the House passed H.R.1, the federal budget for the upcoming year, by a vote of 235-189. Among other cuts in the bill the House voted in an amendment to change the maximum award available from the federal Pell Grant Program from $5,500 to $4,705, a decrease of 15.2 percent.

In total, funding for the Department of Education was decreased by $11 billion, or 16 percent. In order to become law, the bill must first go to the Senate; House and Senate bills must be reconciled, and a final version approved by the president.

According to information published by the University of Massachusetts University Relations website, 4,850 UMass students were awarded Pell Grants in the 2009-2010 academic year, a nearly seven percent increase in awards from the previous academic year. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, the UMass Director of Financial Aid Services Suzanne Peters said, “Last year was probably the biggest increase in appeals that we saw, and I think what we’re seeing now is families are still in crisis, they’re still unemployed.”

President Barack Obama sought to maintain the maximum award for the Pell Grant in the budget originally submitted to congress on Feb.14. This included making cuts to other federal student loan programs and eliminating funding for Pell Grants used to cover summer class expenses. In a statement issued regarding Obama’s original proposal, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators commended the decision to maintain Pell Grant levels, but expressed anxiety that the cuts would impact students negatively.

“Eliminating subsidized Stafford loans for graduate students and two Pell Grants in an award year will undeniably have a negative impact on students, but maintaining funding for the Pell program, which could be facing a $20 billion shortfall in FY 2012, is our highest priority,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger at the time.

Lindsay McCluskey, the president of the United States Student Association, released a statement condemning the current cuts to the Department of Education, particularly those which impact the Pell Grant.

“A reduction of this magnitude in the Pell Grant means that the House’s continuing resolution will effectively end the college education for many low-income students,” McCluskey said.  “In all, H.R. 1 shows just how little the 112th House of Representatives prioritizes young people and a college education.”

Rep. John Olver of Massachusetts 1st district, which includes Amherst, voted against the amendment to reduce the Pell Grant and against the H.R.1 bill in its entirety.

According to an e-mail from Elizabeth Murphy, Olver’s press secretary, Olver said: “Cutting spending should not mean cutting off a young person’s opportunity for an education. We cannot afford to cut the maximum Pell Grant by 15 percent. If enacted, 136,517 students in the state of Massachusetts will suffer.”

He added, “These cuts unfairly penalize prospective college students in need of financial assistance from pursuing the same education as their wealthier would-be classmates.”

In an e-mail from Whitney Smith, Sen. John Kerry’s press secretary, Kerry said the Pell Grant is too valuable for students to be cut.

“Investments in college opportunity are down payments on our country’s economic and competitive future and nowhere is there a better example than right here in Massachusetts,” said Kerry said in the statement. “Claiborne Pell believed in his gut that a student’s educational future shouldn’t depend on their ability to pay tuition.”

“I don’t want to tell any hard working student that they’re going to get priced out of college because our budget priorities were out of whack,” he continued. “Let’s cut the budget elsewhere and fund the Pell Grants at the maximum amount so we’re not cheating kids out of the chance to go to college.”

Sen. Scott Brown’s office was unable to be reached for comment.

UMass senior Zac Bissonnette, the author of “Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents,” said he was not certain that the Pell Grant Program and other government spending on education actually expanded accessibility.

Bissonnette said the answer to the question of whether the Pell Grant expanded accessibility was a “resounding maybe,” noting that when the Pell Grant program started, low-income students made up a greater portion of the undergraduate population.

“The problem is that increases in federal funding for higher education, in many cases, just provide the opportunity for schools to raise their prices to finance things like, hypothetically, a new luxury gymnasium,” said Bissonnette

UMass professor of economics emeritus Richard Wolff described the cuts to education as both harmful and unnecessary, saying that they will ultimately harm the economy.

“We are now entering in the fourth year of the great recession,” said Wolff. “People are continuing to find it difficult to find work.

He continued, “At a time like this to make it harder for young people to earn credentials is a kind of craziness that makes us look like a hysterical nation to the rest of the world shooting itself in the foot.”

Wolff also said these kinds of cuts are unnecessary and that far better ways of reducing the deficit exist.

“Corporations used to contribute 50 percent more than individuals to the total tax revenue. Now they contribute 25 percent as much as individuals. During the 1950s, the wealthiest 10 percent of individuals contributed 70 to 80 percent of their top bracket earnings to the government,” he said, noting that the fifties were a time of great economic growth.  

Wolff said the tax burden has been distributed on lower classes, which is making deficit more difficult to overcome.

“The highest income earners now only contribute 35 percent of their top bracket earnings. There has been no comparable reduction in taxes for the middle and lower classes,” he said.

While acknowledging that federal educational spending can sometimes be ineffective, Wolff stated that this is not the important issue.

“Rather than quarreling about the effectiveness of a Head Start program, or financial aid programs, and nickel and diming, we need to invest in education. With all the mistakes, spending money on education is a far better and surer investment than spending it on corporations and the wealthy,” Wolff said.

Melanie Muller can be reached at [email protected].

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  • S

    Sabrina BrannonJul 4, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I have never been so disappointed in our governmt decisions as I am today. My spouse of 36 years passed away recently and I am having to go to college in order to just get a job to support myself and my last child who is also in college. But our elected offficials have decided that the masses of unemployed people in my country should find another route to pay for education. All you officials who claim to be Christians must think all of Americans has the same opportunities that you have had. However, consider this, my family was devastated when my spouse died and left me nothing not even the money to bury him. I don’t want to live on the government. I want to stand on my two feet and take care of myself and pay my taxes, as all good Americans should. Explain to me how I can do this. No income(jobs are scarce in Columbus,GA), trying to finish school, daughter trying to finish school ( because whether you are aware of this or not, most jobs want a college education now , not just high school), and ofcourse I could apply for a minimum wage job, but could all you good ole boys in the House of Representatives and the Congress manage just to live on that pentence @ 7.50 per hour? Don’t even try to lie because some of the American public are not dirt eating inbreds and we see how you line your pockets with gold. Remember we do know all about the extra homes, summer getaways, lavish parties, designer clothes, and the lies you spout during your campaign promises that never come to fruition.I am not a religious zealot, but anyone who has read their bible knows Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, asked his disciples to come with him and bring nothing. For you to cut funds from the Pell Grant is unrealistic. Cut your pay. Do not give yourselves raises for the next five years. Will this kill you? Nope! But it certainly is killing the ones who are really trying to make something of themaselves. I am a 54 year old widow woman and have raised 3 children. My husband paid taxes all his life but being self-employed he left me holding the proverbial emptly bag. Where is your empathy, where is your heart? Maybe when God ask you these questions you may have an answer. God forgive those with power, for they know not what they have done to our country.

  • P

    P.DrakeJun 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    As we can all see, Mike must have been born with a silver spoon. But answer me this what about students with disablitites who may be hospitalized for a semester and manages to meet their pell max, again because they have been hospitiled during the semester. I’m certain you don’t have an answer because you don’t even sound as if you have a heart.

  • Q

    QuinaAug 23, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I am a single parent of two. I am currently working part-time and taking on-line classes full-time. I currently have a associates degree in Culinary Arts and now working towards a associates degree in Criminal Justice. The job that I currently have has nothing to do with the degree that I got. It was the only job available and I had to do what I had to do to take care of myself and my kids. I do attend college because of the pell grant because it helps me to provide for my family and pay bills. My grades are very satisfactory, even though alot of times I’m stressed from trying to do better, live better, and take care of my kids. I feel that the pell should be rewarded to whoever and the amount should be set at $2000.00 per quarter.(just my opinion)

  • J

    JamesJul 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Mike L.,
    People like you think that success occurs in some sort of vacuum. The belief that you alone (and your bootstraps) are the only factor in one’s socio-economic advancement are sorely out of touch with humanity and ignorant of the pitfalls of the capitalist religion.

    Mike, your philosophies are extremely regressive and will end up with a horde of serfs and peasants living at the whim of their lords – the landed gentry, the church, the military and select merchants.

    Oh wait – that already exists (because of capitalism).

    Now, I will admit that there is abuse of the student aid system. But your type of thinking magnifies a minority occurrence to the point that it’s all you can see. There are far simpler ways to cut out those seeking welfare from those that are actually there to advance their station in life through education.
    However, this still signifies a general need for financial welfare within society as people have turned to things like gaming the higher-education system just to make ends meet – things as simple as utility bills, food, and gasoline. This whole rigmarole is performed just so they can scrape by another month or so as most likely there are no real economic prospects in their area.
    I’m sure you think that they should just move, then. Because we’re all “free”, right?

    Paleoconservative ideology creates the very monsters it thrives on demonizing.

  • S

    sandiMay 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    @Mike L…

    All people should have a chance to better themselves, rich, poor, smart, disabled, and not so smart…once you are in college nothing is handed to you unless you do the work!!!

    A lot of people in this country have been laid off – they need the money to better themselves so they can become employed…and I am one of them.

    I wish my daughter could have gotten a grant because I slaved at a job as a single mom to support her and pay for her college and I’m still paying for it and now I have no job.

  • P

    Penny S.Apr 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    This is a nightmare…Look, Congress, I’ve been working harder than practically anyone in my high school, and if you’re going to cut the funding, I need to know before I commit to my university (which I could not attend without the full Pell Grant) and find some other option so that I’m in school in the fall. I agree that Pell Grant recpipients are some of the hardest-working students, and it’s an outrage that we could be forced out of school because the government is unwilling to cut in other areas, or even come to a decision on whether the Pell Grant will be pared down in a timely manner.

  • J

    Janet NMar 18, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    I am a pell recipent a mother of two with a husband who has been laid off from work making 1400. a month, This is to feed a family of 3 and pay bills.He is going to school full time, and we are both trying to find full time jobs, or part time anything. The only thing we have to pay for college if pell is cut is from unemployment. Where will those funds come from My husnad is 43 years old been at the same job since 1986 when they closed he lost everything, even his retirement. For us their is no money to help us we have used the last bit to survive own. The only hope for is a college education either in a 4 year or two year I rely on the year around Pell Grant so I can finish school and I do not abuse the funds it pays my book tuition and anything else I need for my classes. I do not abuse it is used strictly for school and thats it no car gas , no food just school many of us in this lay off situation are not looked at, but we make up a lot of the colleges students consider the unemployeed when making these cuts were down to our last hope in the government to help us get back to work by furthering our education.

  • Z

    Zachary K.Mar 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Mike L.

    Are you seriously suggesting that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to attend university? The Pell Grant is enabling me to attend the University. I currently receive the full grant. If it was cut by $845, I would have to figure out a way to pay for two months of my rent, and feed myself, while I’m going to school full time, maintaining a GPA of over 3.7, and working a job. You sir disgust me. If anyone doesn’t “deserve” to be in school, or is “crowding” the institution, it is definitely not the Pell Grant recipients, who are probably the hardest working students on campus. The students holding UMass back are those whose parents coddle them and send them away to UMass, where they don’t take their studies seriously, and spend their time drinking and doing drugs. Your logic that poor college students don’t deserve a chance to attend university is flawed and offensive. It isn’t even worth arguing with you because your argument is that misguided. I bet you hate black people too.

  • D

    dale parsonsMar 4, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Clearly, Mike L is not among those scrounging for money to meet tuition payments. Just who are those people who go to college on Pell grants who shouldn’t go? If your brand of capitalism stands for the proposition that higher education (and hence access to leadership positions in all fields) should be open only to the wealthy/economically successful and their progeny, I am all for a switch to another system. The U.S. needs now more than ever to promote talent and encourage expansion, not narrowing, of educational opportunity. Besides, as Kevin points out, the ‘fix’ for unwise admissions policies doesn’t lie in cutting funding to those who are needy and deserving of a chance. I am appalled at the moral poverty of your argument, and the cavalier way you toss of the hopes and aspirations of these young people.

  • A

    Anon111Mar 4, 2011 at 10:13 am

    “the point is the pell grant allows people to go to college who otherwise shouldnt go. It disrupts the market.”

    There certainly should be more rigorous standards in place. However, my girlfriend, as an example, attends Smith college. She used to receive partial funding from a Pell grant until she ended up with a nearly fully paid scholarship, supported by alumni that covered her remaining years. She was valedictorian in high school and has a 3.8 GPA in the “hard” sciences.

    This is what this form of financial aid should support. Those who have demonstrated academic achievement, but do not necessarily have the means to pay for college.

  • M

    Mike L.Mar 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    the point is the pell grant allows people to go to college who otherwise shouldnt go. It disrupts the market. Everyone wants capitalism as long as no one is left out. Cant have it both ways

  • K

    KevinMar 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I work as a financial aid officer, and I must admit, there is A LOT of abuse of the Pell Grant program (and aid program in general) by students and schools. However, instead reducing the amount of Pell available to students who actually need it for the right reasons, Congress should be figuring out a way to cut waste and deter fraud and misuse of funds. We have students who are obviously coming to school just for the checks; in many cases getting $3,000 – $4,000 and then move on to another school to do the same. Nonetheless, why do the people who need this money and honestly want an education have to pay for the dishonesty of others and the brokenness of the system? Schools need to have the right to limit awards based on the “real” cost of attendance and individual student situations (currently we do not).

  • J

    Jarred RoseMar 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Great. I work at Financial Aid and I already have to tell too many people that they basically can’t come to school because there is no money to give them… You would be amazed at how many people literally have no way of coming up with an additional $700-$1000 especially here where many students are bound to their parents on paper but those parents can’t help them at all. The Pell Grant is given to a huge number of students here and this policy is just awful.

  • M

    Mike L.Mar 3, 2011 at 7:50 am

    I am pleased with this cut. The increase in financial aid has decreased the value of the undergraduate degree. Too many people are being admitted into college and thus too many are graduating. College is far too easy, especially one like Umass. Maybe these reductions in aid will cast out the some of the less than serious students. College shouldn’t be handed to anyone. One should work to pay for it and work to earn the grades.
    Also, hopefully this is a step in changing the corporate model universities have today.

  • A

    Anon111Mar 3, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Planned Parenthood, NIH, and now this. The attitude toward some of these high profile budget cuts is both puzzling and hypocritical.

    I constantly hear about how America will continue to be a leader in scientific research and to make improvements in standards of education. But cutting funding from the Pell grant will undermine educational opportunities for many talented individuals. Furthermore, cutting funding from the NIH is additionally a terrible idea. When push comes to shove, the scientists that have stable jobs will not be the ones to suffer. It will be programs that are available to scientifically train recent college graduates and post-doctoral candidates that will be the first to see a demise. In other words, it is the next generation of scientific leaders that will suffer.