Community College Associations Launch Advocacy Campaign to Preserve Pell
Two community college associations convened a webinar conference call Tuesday to encourage members of the higher education community to take action to prevent cuts to the Pell Grant program, amid a budget-cutting climate and increasing concern in Congress over the recent growth of the program.
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) convened the webinar to update members on the political debate surround the Pell program, and persuade Pell advocates to join the groups’ joint advocacy campaign.
“The program has more than doubled in the last three years - it’s just an extraordinary expansion of that program,” AACC Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Research, David Baime, said. “A lot of funding issues tend to be party-line votes and the Democrats take one side and the Republicans take one side, but the program has got so big and so expensive and it’s happened so quickly that everybody is taking a hard look at this program and saying, ‘Can we really afford this?’”
Funding challenges for the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget are presented by the growing number of applicants and expanded eligibility requirements established in Congress. The Pell program has grown from roughly 6 million students in 2008 to an estimated 8.9 million students in FY 2010.
The higher education community’s concern over cuts to the Pell Grant program mounted when the House passed an FY 2012 budget resolution that called for Pell levels to be pulled back to their FY 2008 levels. The House budget resolution failed in the Senate, but many members of Congress are still pushing for cuts and eligibility restrictions to reign in the program’s spending levels.
“We have seen several members, including some very influential members of the House Appropriations Committee, who have questioned the Pell program in general, have raised some concerns about how the program is running, and also raised concerns about the eligibility for Pell,” ACCT Public Policy Director Jee Hang Lee said. “All those factors obviously raise concerns for us, in terms of how we advocate for the program and how we proceed to fiscal year 2012.”
Congress is considering proposals to create a more sustainable maximum award level, roll back some of the need analysis changes enacted in previous legislation and set stricter lifetime time limits on eligibility for Pell Grant aid, according to a May 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.
For community colleges, restriction and cuts could mean less revenue. In 2009-10, community colleges received an approximate $9.3 billion in Pell Grant funding, according to the ACCT and AACC webinar. Of the 8.9 million students that received Pell Grants in FY 2010, approximately 35 percent were community college students.
“The community college sector benefits larger than any other sector from the Pell Grant program - primarily because of our low tuitions, also because of the income backgrounds of our students - but our students use Pell Grants more than any other federal program to finance their higher education,” Baime said.” Our institutions, as you all are achingly aware, have become more tuition-dependent over the last few years as we absorb major budget cuts at the state and local level, and so the program has grown in importance.”
ACCT and AACC encouraged members of the higher education community to take action by writing letters and op-eds, hosting campus tours and recruiting students in the effort to persuade lawmakers to preserve Pell Grant funding. More information, including Pell Facts and tips for writing op-eds, is available at PellGrantActionCenter.org.
“We strongly believe that Pell Grant advocacy can make a fundamental difference for all of us in terms of holding the line on the maximum, which is $5,550,” Lee said. “Unless we are able to generate this significant amount for it, it could be in jeopardy, especially a number of the eligibility changes transpire; it could have a significant impact on community college students.”
The CRS attributes the recent spike in program costs to "legislative changes that have led to increased benefits for more students, increases in the number of students enrolling in college and applying for Pell Grant aid, and a weakened economy."
You can also visit NASFAA’s Take Action page for letter templates specific to financial aid administrators, a guide to finding your representatives and information about how proposed cuts could impact students in your state.