Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's the Poor Who Get Short Shrift on College Subsidies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's the Poor Who Get Short Shrift on College Subsidies

Article excerpt

One could be forgiven for thinking that it's the middle class who have suffered most from America's failed higher-education policies, which saddled students with years of debt. Putative reformers invoke the plight of the middle class almost exclusively. President Obama's plan to link financial aid to certain college performance metrics is from a proposal called "A Better Bargain for the Middle Class." Likewise, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has proposed dropping interest rates for college loans to near zero, described student debt as an "emerging threat to the middle class."

But more than the middle class, it is the poor who truly have something to complain about.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama again suggested that tuition-free community colleges are a way to break down financial barriers to a degree. But his administration has for years let grant and loan programs for the poor wither.

This neglect is most apparent in what's happened to the Perkins Loan Program and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, both means-tested aid programs targeted to the students most in need.

The Perkins, FSEOG and Federal Work-Study programs were the only U.S. student aid programs that shrank during the last decade, according to a 2012-2013 College Board report. FSEOG funding for students declined 20 percent, and the Perkins Loan Program declined 54 percent.

These cuts might not be so remarkable if not for the concurrent expansion of other federal student aid programs. Pell Grants grew 118 percent, subsidized student loans grew 12 percent and unsubsidized loans grew 156 percent. All in all, federal student aid grew 105 percent.

This disparity is actually getting worse in some ways. Students from higher-income families receive a significantly larger share of unsubsidized student loans (the largest federal student aid expenditure) and PLUS loans (the program that has grown the most in the past decade).

Congress' student aid priority should be to increase funding that colleges receive for the FSEOG program. Poor students should be eligible for larger grant awards to make it easier for them to complete college. …

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