Don't balance federal budget at the expense of college student aid

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By Tina Bjarekull

The fundamental challenge facing President Obama and the 112th Congress in balancing the federal budget is preserving the nation’s economic strengths and core values. The measure of their success in maintaining the nation’s priorities will not be known for years to come. As a result, some may be tempted to ignore long-term consequences for immediate budget relief. This is a mistake the nation cannot afford.

A case in point is federal student aid. H.R. 1, adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives, reduces the Pell Grant maximum award by $845 effective July 1, 2011. If signed into law, 1.7 million Americans will lose their Pell Grant awards and 7.5 million Americans will see their educational benefits slashed.

Similarly, President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal eliminates the year-round Pell, which allows a Pell Grant recipient to receive an additional award for a summer course of study and eliminates funding for the Leveraging Educational Assistance Program, which provides the seed money for more than $1 billion in student aid provided by states across the nation.

Both proposals reduce access and stifle opportunities for millions of Americans who rely on federal aid to fulfill their dreams. While this alone is disappointing, even more disturbing is the impact on our nation’s strength and competitiveness.

The economic vitality of the United States is dependent on knowledge, innovation, and intellectual discoveries. We cannot cut ourselves out of a global recession. We must build the intellectual capital necessary to lead, grow, and prosper.

A fiscally responsible budget is a budget that maintains investments in student financial aid. There is no better hope for tomorrow.

Tina Bjarekull is President of the Maryland Independent College and University Association.
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