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Pell funding key in education.

Byline: Francesco C. Cesareo


Danielle grew up in Worcester and dreamed of attending college. She was thrilled when she was accepted to Assumption College and received financial aid. She carefully budgets to afford her education, and she has a work-study job that helps with expenses. She also works during the summer and winter break to pay her tuition. The Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) are important pieces of her financial package and her future.

A joint House-Senate committee in Washington is now charged with developing compromise legislation that sets federal spending for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year - and everything is on the table.

One program the committee must leave alone is existing student financial aid programs. If the United States is to remain competitive in today's global economy, it is critical we graduate more of our citizens from college.

The Pell Grant and FSEOG are two key federal student financial aid programs that have proved to be remarkably successful in ensuring that academically talented students from low- and moderate-income families pursue and obtain a higher education.

In Massachusetts, there are 105,000 students at our public and private not-for-profit colleges who receive a Pell Grant. The total Pell allocation for those students is $361 million. There are 39,000 students who are the recipients of a FSEOG - many of whom probably also receive a Pell. That allocation is $28 million a year. The House-passed budget proposes to reduce the maximum Pell Grant by 15 percent or $865 - it also proposes to totally eliminate the FSEOG program. Those two cuts alone could average a loss in federal aid of more than $1,500 per student - large enough to cause a student to withdraw from college before graduation or to postpone attending college entirely.

These proposed cuts harm individual students and potentially weaken our country's competitive standing in the global economy as some of our most talented students cannot, for financial reasons, realize their full potential. Talent knows no economic boundaries, but if student financial aid programs like the Pell and FSEOG programs are reduced or eliminated, then we're essentially putting up a roadblock preventing an entire economic class of our country from obtaining a college degree.

Is this really in line with our national priorities?

Locally, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature see the value of need-based student financial aid programs, especially in this economy. The governor's proposed budget for fiscal 2012 essentially level-funds student financial aid, ensuring that students from low- and moderate-income levels receive help with college tuition bills. This year, the Massachusetts independent and public colleges will award over $600 million in need-based aid just to Massachusetts residents. Assumption College, with just 2,000 undergraduates, provides more than $15 million in need-based aid. The budget process now turns to the Legislature, where we hope student financial aid programs will remain intact.

Obscured by the barrage of budget figures, federal or local, are the stories of the individual talented students whose future lies in the balance. Pell recipients are often the first in the family to go on to college. They are likely to have overcome daunting personal challenges and were encouraged by the knowledge that a college degree could be the start of a promising future.

It's in our country's self-interest and national security to have the highest educated citizenry and workforce possible. There is ample evidence that shows the more you learn, the more you earn.

Long term, that helps to reduce our budget deficit. Funding student financial aid programs must continue.

Francesco C. Cesareo is president of Assumption College.


CUTLINE: Francesco C. Cesareo
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 20, 2011
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