Amid Attacks on Pell Grants, Improper Payouts Fell 13 Percent in 2011

Countless studies indicate that a college education leads to a well-paying job, so it would make sense that Congress — passionately committed to job creation — would prioritize making it easier for American to afford a college degree.

Unfortunately, it's been just the opposite recently, with elected officials eyeing the Pell Grant program as it looks to find ways to cut government spending.

In a bill for fiscal 2012, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed a number of cuts that total $3.6 billion and would strip up to 1 million students of Pell Grants that have been vital in helping them afford higher education. And due to changes in scoring rules by the House Budget Committee, legislators also need to create an additional $896 million in savings.

This draconian approach to the budget and education funding has wide support in the Republican Caucus. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana called Pell Grants “the welfare of the 21st century” and objected to the notion of helping students that he considers “people that don’t have to graduate from college.” It seems that he’s suggesting only some people should have the opportunity to go to college.

At an October town hall in Muskego, Wisc., House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told a student that “he worked three jobs to pay off [his] student loans after college.” But with college tuition surging by almost 130 percent over the last 20 years and student loans set to exceed $1 trillion, that advice seems less relevant in today's economy.

While the Republican Leadership in the House has repeatedly called for cutbacks in financial aid to college students, the White House has made efforts to expand it. Last year President Obama signed legislation which reformed federal student loans by eliminating fees paid to private lenders. By cutting out the middleman, the President achieved more than $60 billion in savings that will now be put directly into students’ pockets through Pell Grants.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), then-chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, hailed the legislation as a victory for families and students across the country, praising it as an investment “in students and America’s world economic leadership.”

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