Higher education advocates are again on the defensive in the ongoing battle over Pell Grants, which Congressional Republicans are hoping to cut in deficit reduction talks. Eight college presidents joined student activists and U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both Maryland Democrats) at a rally Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill to criticize proposals to cut Pell's budget back to pre-stimulus levels.
Tuesday’s event was the result of some last-minute organization – the presidents were in town for a meeting of the Coalition of Urban-Serving Universities and worked with the U.S. Students Association to bring it together.
USU’s 46 member institutions, which are all public research universities in large metropolitan areas, have a lot to lose if Pell is cut next year because large percentages of their students rely on their grants. At Florida International University, for example, 37 percent of the 43,000-member student body received Pell Grants last year. More than half of those students – 54 percent – received the full grant amount of $5,500.
Mikulski asked students to be more vocal in their opposition to proposed Pell cuts, which could keep many low-income students from being able to afford a college education.
“We need you to flood the airwaves and the broadband,” she told the audience of students and education lobbyists. Student activists responded by talking about their plans to flood lawmakers’ Twitter and e-mail accounts on Monday – which they’ve dubbed “Save Pell Day” – to call attention to their campaign to preserve the program.
Pell Grants were spared major cuts in April, when Republicans agreed to preserve the maximum award amount while cutting the summer grant program – which shielded most of the program's 9.4 million recipients from cuts. But Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would reduce the maximum award by $845 and render 1.7 million current students ineligible to receive the grants.