EDITORIAL: We must save Federal Pell Grants

Bill to cut budget from financial aid will cause more harm than good


College degrees in the United States are more expensive than any other country in the world, and so the news of a proposed $3.3 billion cut to the Federal Pell Grant program being approved by Congress is one that is disconcerting. Although the bill is scheduled to be put to vote by the Senate in a few months, if it is approved, this would be the second year in a row that cuts were made to the Pell Grant program.

For those who may not know what the Pell Grant is or what it entails: The Pell Grant is a federal grant awarded to undergraduate students who exhibit financial need. The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2017-2018 year is $5,920. Students are eligible for the Pell Grant after filling out the FAFSA form and are offered a partial or full Pell Grant based on the financial aid they need, their cost of attendance at school and whether they are full-time or part-time students. Students cannot be Pell Grant recipients if they are in a “federal or state penal institution” or have been subject to incarceration because of a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense. This means that the students absolutely need one and do not have any reason as to why the public would say they should not receive the grant.

Between 2015 and 2016, 33 percent of the 22.8 million undergraduate students in the United States were Pell Grant recipients. At Rutgers, about 30 percent of incoming first-year students receive Pell Grants. This is why the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) at Rutgers is campaigning against these proposed cuts.

One of the reasons that these cuts have gotten so far could be that other issues around the nation are taking precedence. With debates surrounding health care and the proposed wall along the Mexico-United States border overwhelming the news, it is possible that many voters are not even fully aware of what the Pell Grant is or the proposed cuts. This way, when it comes time to vote on it, it does not seem like it is something that should be prioritized. But the fact of the matter is that the Pell Grant should be a top priority. 

Those voting on the budget cuts to the Pell Grant must realize that some students cannot afford the costs of colleges. A federal grant, which students do not need to pay back, could be the difference between a student going or not going to college. If the cuts to this budget are approved, it could lead to students deciding that they do not have enough money to go to college this semester or the next.

Taking opportunities away from students in a lower income bracket will also affect the economic diversity of colleges. It eliminates the chance for a fair playing field for low-income students.

The work that NJPIRG is doing to protect the Pell Grant is admirable. Not only is the organization campaigning against the bill, but it is also coordinating with other PIRGs for the first Rutgers National Pell Week of Action where there will be class announcements, tabling events and an increased social media presence. NJPIRG is fighting so hard because of initiatives such as the proposed Pell Grant cuts. Thirty percent is not a small percentage, and this bill will directly affect the Rutgers student body.

Pell Grants must be protected, and for those who disagree, they should consider the feelings of those who rely on them to get through college.

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