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EDITORIAL: Congress limiting financial aid betrays students

Despite soaring student loan debt in the U.S. and the ever-increasing cost of tuition, Congress could tick off college students by ticking off significant education funding from its budget in the coming year.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate republicans settled on a spending blueprint for the next fiscal year that could minimize the Pell Grant and leave student-loan borrowers without crucial benefits. Though these cuts are expected to save taxpayers over $61 billion in the next decade, sacrificing education funds shows how Congress isn’t thinking in the best interest of students and reinforces the view that college is a mere business expense.   

This reality only highlights the absurdity of reducing federal student aid during a time when college affordability is practically a myth for the nearly 70 percent of college graduates with student debt, a figure reported by the Institute for College Access and Success.

As found in a study by Experian, student loan debt reached $1.2 trillion. A Federal Reserve Bank of New York study also found that Americans are experiencing more difficulty paying back student loans than other types of debt, such as credit cards and mortgages. 

One of the many problematic aspects of this spending blueprint is that Pell would no longer be protected by mandatory funding. Instead, the fate of the program’s budget would be decided by the annual appropriations process, which opens the doors to budget cuts. 

As mentioned in the Chronicle, the advocacy group Committee for Education Funding expects the maximum Pell award to drop by 15.8 percent, or $915, from the $5,775 set for the 2015-16 year. The New York Times also mentioned cuts in the form of offering Pell grants to fewer recipients.

The effects of a budget cut would be undoubtedly far-reaching. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2012-13 year, the last year data was available, Florida alone had 623,371 Pell recipients, and USF had 16,829 recipients. 

What may be more concerning is that, as the Chronicle reported, the plan involves forgoing the interest subsidy on Stafford loans, limiting income-based loan repayment and cutting public-sector loan forgiveness.  According to the Committee for Education Funding, this change could lead to an increase in total debt of $4,900 over the next decade for those who borrowed the maximum loan amount. 

Students carry enough debt as is, and increasing debt while also offering students less grant aid is a betrayal to students, especially considering that the cost of college in the U.S. has already led to criticisms that colleges are businesses.  

For instance, as addressed in the Guardian, one critic arguing that colleges follow business models explained that students are thought of as “consumers.” 

The spending blueprint shows such an argument isn’t just a cynical application of capitalism on education in the U.S., especially since appropriators would have to find other areas to trim from the budget if they disagree with the education cuts. 

If a college education is a way to provide hope for future job security and is deemed necessary for doing so, then Congress needs to value students by making it a plausible and affordable goal.