Brown: Obama’s financial aid cuts a mixed bag

Jacob Brown | February 16, 2011    

I remember the good ol’ hoorah students espoused around here when President Barack Obama was… I remember the good ol’ hoorah students espoused around here when President Barack Obama was still a candidate touring around the country.

“He’ll make college more affordable!” you’d hear legions of devout Obama followers say. I suppose even I hoped that if he were elected, he’d come through for us on that one.

But the closest he has come in that respect since assuming his presidential role was to raise the per-year maximum Pell Grant $200, or from $5,350 to $5,550 in July 2009. It became part of what would have been a 31 percent federal increase in educational funding, with the Chronicle of Higher Education reporting last year that Obama’s proposed 2011 educational budget would have totaled $77.8 billion (Congress was too mired in partisan gridlock to pass an FY2011 budget late last year, so Obama’s education boosts never took effect).

But just a year after planning increases, it already looks like the great leader is proposing a slash of $100 billion in Pell Grants and other educational funding over the next decade, according to reports from the Associated Press. Good thing I didn’t drink that batch of Kool-Aid.

Proposed cuts come from eliminating “year-round” Pell Grants that cover summer college expenses, lessening grants to graduate students and scrutinizing IRS records more closely to cut overlooked extras.

In all, this Pell program reaches more than 9 million students annually, potentially snubbing many of them of anticipated funds if Obama’s cuts were to pass. And it likely will.

Republicans have even said they wanted to cut Obama’s 2011 budget by $100 billion. Now, it’s just a matter of from where.

The timing of this gives me an appreciation for getting out of school while the going’s still good. As a self-supporting college student, federal funding has been incredibly beneficial to me despite my distain for governmental girth.

As much as the great ideal is to have a government run for the people, by the people, sometimes a modicum of welfare is needed to invest in the future stock of our society. It just needs to be administered properly — something the government can’t do a lot of times. Take, for example, Obama’s recent $53 billion proposal for a high-speed railway — because if France and China have them, they must be essential for the United States, too. To provide such an infrastructure for the country would likely cost much more than the proposed figure, and it’s completely unnecessary in a spread-out country like ours. But I digress. The federal monolith knows better than we do, so expect nothing less than misappropriations and Congressional in-fighting of morally right but logically insane Republicans fighting against idealistic yet naive Democrats.

Then again, they might be onto something — or I might just be an unsympathetic schmuck. Let me explain.

College has become a festering dearth of fiscal responsibility. Many horror stories have cropped up recently with law students indebted a vast sum of money that they have no idea how to pay back.

If the Great Recession of the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that our economy became oversaturated with white-collar dead weight created by the supposed entitlement that ought to come with a college diploma.

For the sake of disclosure this is coming from a guy who could have purchased a really nice BMW with the amount of money I have to pay back after college, but it’s also worth noting that the only things I’ve wanted to do with my life, work-wise, require that extra piece of paper with my name on it.

I’m not one to judge anyone’s ambitions besides my own, but one has to wonder if college really has become nothing more than an all-too-common commodity — a high school: part II. On Sunday, the Post-Gazette reported that Pennsylvania ranks 49th in the nation for nontraditional undergraduate student enrollment despite being the sixth most populated.

Yet it’s not doing half-bad compared to the rest of the nation, at least in terms of unemployment rate. That might have something to do with the fact that the nation doesn’t run solely on desk jobs. To put it bluntly: A stable economy needs people to collect the trash, too.

There used to be a time when college wasn’t some expectation to blow off four or five years of steam before adulthood. It used to be something prestigious.

But every time an athlete is quoted in barely coherent sentences or an organization hosts a spelling bee, such as the one that occurred on-campus last week, in which people misspell the simplest of words, I question how much the influx of nearly 19 million students across the nation is diluting the value of my education. With record-setting enrollment records yearly, it’s no wonder federal college funding is collapsing.

There are people out there who truly need Pell Grants — people busting their butts to get where they want to go after college. For them, it is my hope that beyond all likelihood, Obama’s cuts are defeated.

But looking at the facts with an honest point of view, the best I can hope for is that it helps keep people in universities who want to be there and weeds out the people who make these places nothing more than glorified degree factories.

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