Syracuse Post-Standard Commentary

Laura L. Anglin, president, CICU

Wednesday's commentary: president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York State says proposed cuts to Pell Grants will affect prosperity

By now thousands of Syracuse-area students have decided on which college or university they will attend this fall. Their focus is on the college careers and lives ahead of them. Yet, decisions being made at the federal level could have a devastating impact on current and future generations of college students, as well as the New York state and national economies. While all college students who receive aid will feel the impact of these cuts, New York state students in particular would be affected significantly — and negatively — by a proposal to reduce funding for Pell Grants.

Student aid funding is a partnership between colleges and the state and federal government. In the 2011-2012 New York state budget adopted in late March, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators recognized the importance of such a partnership by fully funding student aid and opportunity programs, including the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). However, on the federal level the fight to maintain student aid continues.

Nearly 10 million Americans earn their way out of poverty by going to college using a Pell Grant. During these challenging economic times, cutting students’ Pell Grants, the largest source of federal grant aid, would be a roadblock to developing the educated, skilled work force essential to ensuring our nation’s future economic strength.

The proposed cuts to federal student aid programs will strongly affect students attending college in New York state institutions as the state ranks fourth among states in total dollar volume for Pell Grants ($1.8 billion). Cutting or trimming federal aid in any way will adversely impact a student’s ability to graduate. Students in lower- and middle-income families need this type of support to help them achieve their college aspirations. For example, in the most recent federal fiscal year for which data are available, more than 100,000 students attending an independent (private, not-for-profit) college or university in New York state received an average Pell Grant of $4,035 to help meet their college expenses. Further, in the Syracuse area’s 24th and 25th Congressional Districts, approximately 32,000 students receive $116 million in Pell Grants.The proposed cuts to Pell and other changes being discussed in Washington now, including the elimination of graduate and undergraduate student loan in-school interest subsidy, would affect students as soon as the next academic year. With fewer students completing their degrees, a higher unemployment rate is almost a certainty. Those students without a degree will also historically earn less when employed.

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that the unemployment rate for those with only a high school diploma or less was 12 percent, while the rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.5 percent. Employees with a bachelor’s degree out-earn those with only a high school diploma by $20,748 annually. Limiting the means available to students to complete their educations affects the United States’ economy and competitiveness.

Although fiscal responsibility in budgeting is essential, on behalf of those students who will drive the prosperity of our country, I urge you, and our federal legislators to stand for student aid and help protect those programs that are vital to educating America’s next generation of future leaders and innovators.

Laura L. Anglin is the president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York State, which represents the chief executives of New York’s 100-plus independent (private, not-for-profit) colleges and universities on issues of public policy including state and federal funding for student aid.