Pell Grants prove important issue in presidential race

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On numerous occasions, President Obama and Governor Romney have repeated the metaphor describing their proposed policies as two different paths for America’s future.

As to what path America will take remains to be seen, at least until Nov. 6. That day will be particularly important for college students, because whatever path America follows will determine what path Pell Grants follow.

Some claim that Romney’s plan involves massive cuts to the Pell Grant program. Romney, however, has denied that he will even touch the program.

In 2010, 12,029 BYU students received a total of $51,189,645 in Pell Grant funds, according to Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority.

That same year, the Federal Pell Grant program provided over $36.5 billion in total grants to approximately 8.9 million undergraduate students, according to statistics provided by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Though only a fraction of the nearly 19.5 million students eligible applied for Pell Grants in 2010, the number of applicants rose from 6.8 million in the 2005–2006 scholastic year to 11 million in the 2009–2010 scholastic year. Other statistics also indicate that the number of applicants will increase over time.

To accommodate the increase of eligible applicants, the costs of supporting the Pell Grant program have risen. Some people are arguing, though, that Mitt Romney’s plan will eliminate federal funding for the Pell Grant program.

Matthew Lynch, chair and associate professor of education at Langston University, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he openly asserted that “the Romney plan intends to make cuts to education, starting with Pell Grants, for example. Many people will lose their only hope (of) being able to go to college.”

“Anyone who has paid attention to President Obama knows that he is a man who advocates for education in this country,” Lynch also wrote. “He understands that when our nation’s youth are educated they will have a better chance at living the American dream.”

“What Republicans may not realize when it comes to our college loans and Pell Grants issue,” Lynch continued, “is that when people earn that college degree they are likely to make more money per year, and as a result will pay more taxes each year.”

But does the Romney plan actually call for cuts to education, including the Pell Grant program? Lynch certainly seems to think so. The problem, however, is that nothing in Romney’s plan, including the plan published on his website, indicates he plans to cut funding to the Pell Grant program.

In the first presidential debate, Romney denied he would cut funding to the Pell Grant program, saying, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.”

Laura Clawson, a contributing editor to the Daily Kos who lives in Washington, D.C., called Romney a liar because of these same statements, saying, “Mitt Romney packed a lot of bull into three short sentences on education funding in Wednesday night’s debate.”

Robbie Richards, a senior from Plantation, Fla., majoring in political science, pointed out the difficulty in predicting what will happen to Pell Grants if Romney is elected president.

“The difficulty with these kinds of campaign proposals is they are always very vague. Perhaps it’s true that Romney has no plans to cut funding for Pell Grants, but that could easily change when the bill is in Congress.”

“At the same time,” Richards said, “Romney has said he would cut education spending, but that may mean spending on other education programs specifically, not Pell Grants. Also, there is the broader issue of needing to cut something, probably many things.”

Richards also pointed out that “there is no government subsidy or program that doesn’t benefit someone. Try to cut spending to one program, and you’ll have all of the people who benefit from it up in arms. Politicians on both sides often use these as hot-button issues to mobilize against their political opponents.”

This issue remains at a standstill with Romney saying he will not cut Pell Grants and liberals saying he will.

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