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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Billion-dollar mistake

By Executive Editors
Executive Editor

Friday, November 18, 2005

Student financial aid is in crisis again. The Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides a major source of federal education funding, is currently in the process of being reauthorized and reformed by Congress.

The House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), has the task of cutting $18.1 billion in spending as a part of Congress’ push to cut $50 billion for a budget reconciliation bill that is supposed to remedy the federal budget deficit. On Oct. 25, the Committee approved a proposal to cut spending on student aid by $14.5 billion over the next five years.

The Committee’s argument is as follows: Since 1965, when the HEA was officially signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the federal government has poured billions of dollars into student financial aid programs to ensure that students from all economic backgrounds have a chance at higher education. Now, however, taxpayers are spending more than ever on higher education, while college still remains out of reach for many young Americans because of rising tuition costs.

In its proposal, the Committee argues that “blindly increasing federal student aid is doing nothing to solve the challenge of skyrocketing college costs.” Because federal student aid increases have coincided with tuition increases, the Committee questions “whether the current federal investments in higher education may actually be a contributing factor to the college cost explosion that is squeezing the budgets of hard working low- and middle-income American families.”

The Committee’s solution is as follows: Reduce the amount of money allotted for student financial aid. We fail to understand how decreasing federal financial aid will help students who cannot afford college. While we don’t pretend to be economists, basic mathematical principles suffice: When you take away from something, you have less of it. Thus, cutting federal financial aid programs will provide students with less money as well as cause less students to be able to attend college in the first place. These cuts will have the opposite intended effect of the Committee’s proposal; they will make it even more difficult for students, regardless of their financial means, to get a college education.

If passed, the consequences of this bill will affect college students for the next six years (the amount of time before the next reauthorization). At St. Olaf, 83 percent of first years who applied for need-based aid received it, and the average award was $19,071. 100 percent of applicants whose family’s income was below $72,000 received aid. While these aid awards might not necessarily make up for our 2005-2006 total estimated tuition costs (tuition, room and board, books and personal expenses) of $34,450, it still makes a difference. We need all the help we can get, and until we find a way to stabilize tuition costs, cutting student financial aid is not the answer.

While Senate has already passed its version of the HEA reauthorization bill, the House has it on its agenda for this week. If it does not vote on the bill by Saturday – the last day of session before a two-week recess – it will most likely vote again in early December. It is not too late to contact our legislators and let them know we oppose billion-dollar cuts that prioritize the national budget over our education.

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