Congressman Kevin McCarthy recently led the charge to reduce federal Pell Grant funding for California Community College students. Many Republicans have praised the new house majority whip for reducing the maximum Pell Grant funding to $4,015 a year, from $5,550.
According to the Community College League of California, about 418,000 community college students in California subsidize their education through these federal grants. At Cuesta College 1,771 students are currently receiving a Pell Grant; if this bill is passed many of these students may not be able to attend college next year.
President Obama is committed to ensuring that the United States has the most educated and most competitive workforce in the world by 2020. In recent years our country has fallen from first to 12th in the percentage of adults from ages 25 to 34 with postsecondary degrees. Canada is the current world leader; 55 percent of their young adults have a postsecondary degree. Just over 40 percent of Americans have an associate’s degree or higher.
Those figures are significantly lower for minority students; in 2009 only 14 percent of black males and 11 percent of Hispanic males held a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Federal Pell Grants and other programs help level the playing field for many of these students.
There is a direct positive correlation between receiving financial aid and earning a degree. Students who earn a degree are more likely to earn more money throughout their lifetimes. It’s simple economics; if we give students grants to earn degrees, America will benefit tenfold. Through income earned, sales taxes paid and an increase in the educated populace our nation benefits.
These cuts come during a time when California Community Colleges are expected to drastically increase completion rates. It is critical that community colleges ensure that students are learning the skills employers are seeking or that they are completing required coursework to transfer to a four-year university. America is relying on our colleges to produce an educated workforce. This is why I find it so troubling that Congressman McCarthy is turning his back on more than 1,700 students in our county, many of whom live in his district.
President Obama has already proposed several reductions in his 2012 budget proposal. His proposal removes Pell Grant funding for all summer classes while maintaining the maximum funding for the academic year at $5,550. This compromise was made in the best interest of students and in the best interest of our nation’s future economy.
If H.R. 1 is passed in the Senate, it will move forward to the president’s desk. I hope President Obama vetoes the bill and sticks to the promise he made not only to our children but to all Americans. It is critical that Congress make fiscally responsible policies; however, this cannot be done by denying educational opportunities to students from low-income and disadvantaged families.
Andrea Devitt is an academic counselor at Cuesta College. She has a master’s degree in public policy as well as a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in curriculum and teaching. She lives in San Luis Obispo.