Coming up short: The debt ceiling vs. Federal Pell Grants

Recent debt ceiling debates in Congress could have left hundreds of Butler University students $5,550 short in financial aid for the 2011-12 academic year.

The childlike debacle that the debt ceiling debate became in Congress this summer was not only tiresome but put college students across the country in a position of possibly having to find other outlets to pay for their education.

In 2010-11, 764 Butler students benefited from federal Pell Grant funds of more than $2.8 million, according to a document provided by Melissa Smurdon, director of financial aid. Another 236 Butler students also relied on the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant for a total of more than $390,000 last year.

Had Congress not come to some middle ground to raise the debt ceiling, 764 students could have lost the opportunity to attend Butler this year without taking out subsidized or unsubsidized loans.

Loans can result in students owing thousands in addition to the original loan amount, depending on the interest rate.

Pell Grants and other  government-supplied loans help students afford a college education.

The actions Congress took this summer are unacceptable. Students and state-level government officials were forced to look for other monetary options if the economy defaulted.

Even though Congress avoided default, the United States’ credit score still was lowered by Standard & Poor’s. Congress gambled with college students who nervously waited to see what their futures would become.

Student Government Association President Al Carroll was one of roughly 100 student body presidents from campuses around the country who convened to encourage lawmakers to strike a deal and raise the debt ceiling.

Carroll was not able to travel to Washington, D.C., with other student body presidents, but he did sign a letter from all the student body representatives to President Barack Obama asking him to act immediately.

Carroll had more personal motivation to join fellow student body presidents in their quest.

“I felt like there was a way to come to a solution without cutting the benefits that are vital to our generation,” he said.

Budget cuts are commonplace in government.

However, the slicing and dicing of funding for education is despicable.

Education funding should be protected more thoroughly, so when Congress decides that some form of spending has to be sent to the chopping block, it will not be at the expense of our futures.

Although Pell Grants seemingly are safe until 2013, there is no telling what could happen to them after that date.

Smurdon said Congress has discussed cutting Pell Grants, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and subsidized student loans for undergraduate students. Students would have to choose between unsubsidized loans or private loans, which both are accompanied by interest rates and lasting debt.

Although it is a relief that our country didn’t default, the debt ceiling drama still should scare everyone, especially students. It’s our futures on the line. The uncertain future of Pell Grants could lead to kids shying away from college for fear of not being able to afford it in any capacity.

Fortunately, Butler has not suffered a host of problems from this recent scare.

“I believe our retention has been increasing, [although] that is not to say that students haven’t been
leaving because of this,” Smurdon said.

If anything, politicians need to be working diligently to ensure that education is well protected so that all
students get the opportunity for higher education and brighter futures.

Or else, we could all be suffering from the hesitant decisions of our country’s lawmakers.


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