“The decisions our leaders make about education in the coming years will shape our future for generations to come. They will help determine not only whether our children have the chance to fulfill their God-given potential or whether our workers have the chance to build a better life for their families, but whether we as a nation will remain in the 21st century the kind of global economic leader that we were in the 20th century.”
These words come from a speech Barack Obama gave to students in Ohio concerning the importance of education in 2008. Today they weigh heavier than ever on our nation.
This week President Obama turned in his proposed budget of $3.73 trillion for the year 2012. The good news is the overall budget for discretionary spending in education will rise about 21 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The bad news is that the budget has a number of deep budget cuts aimed at reducing the deficit by more than $1 trillion. Included in the president’s round of proposed budget cuts are some changes in the Pell Grant program.
Beginning this year, college students who may want to get their degree a little earlier by attending summer classes can forget about applying for a Pell Grant, because they’re no longer available for summer school. The grant is how many low-income students, including yours truly, are able to attend college. Without it, I would have been in a situation like that of my mother, who stood absolutely no chance of getting a shot at a college education in the 1950s.
According to the White House, the change was necessary in order to maintain the Pell Grant’s maximum allotment of $5,550 during the regular school year. There are also cuts to funding for the LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative, which will drastically affect state governments’ ability to match student funding for higher education. At a time when 43 out of 50 states, including my home state of Mississippi, are cutting funding for education, this comes as a devastating blow to low-income students, many of whom are Black and Latino.
And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. The 2012 budget also proposes to allow interest to accrue on government-backed low-interest loans to graduate students while they’re still enrolled in school, not when they’re out of school, as is the current policy. What this means for someone who is taking out a loan to get a master's or doctorate is that while they’re working hard to obtain a degree to improve their lives, the interest on the loan is building. Under this proposal, students will spend six to eight years getting their ticket to a better life only to graduate to a mountain of debt, which defeats the purpose of attending graduate school in the first place for many students.
In a global economy, higher education will be crucial for the next generation of Americans’ ability to compete in the job market. This is especially true for people of color. How are we going to “outeducate the rest of the word” if we are cutting funding that helps college students? This is why any cuts or changes in college funding must be vehemently opposed.
Image: REUTERS/ Kevin Lamarque