In September, I posted about the $6 billion shortfall in the Pell Grant budget. That number is likely to be higher now that people trying to get into college has increased. However, recent televised news reports on both NBC and CBS have said that Pell Grant eligibility and amounts have been expanded slightly (by about $800) as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus package.
On the one hand this is good news. Pell Grants are one of the only stop gaps between undergraduates and college loans, a system, that I argued in that same post linked to above, violates basic rights afforded in the establishment of legally binding loans in the U.S. As more students are deferring admission or dropping out because of financial need, the increase in Pell Grant funds also signals an opportunity to save some of our best and brightest from the recession. I for one have witnessed devastating impact on our classes here at Pov U, first with the housing crisis, now with the unemployment rates. Even $800 will help ensure my students can take all of their classes and you know, buy books.
However, I still do not understand where this money is going to come from. And I am wary of any plan that simply defers one form of indebtedness for another in my students’ lives. The link between perpetual indebtedness and education in this country is inexcusable not only from an ideological standpoint but also given that both universities in the Global South and in Europe and the UK are either free or subsidized to the point of being rendered affordable while students here continue to mortgage their futures for increasingly dumbed down classes taught by exploited labor. Nor does qualification for a Pell Grant necessarily protect you from student loans. In many states, an increase in Pell Grants results in a decrease in other non-loan aid from the state. In those cases, it is not the student who stands to gain up to $800 more in AID, it is the state government.
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