The United States Student Association (USSA) called on students, union and community members today to participate in a national day of action to show legislators that there’s widespread opposition to state and federal budget cuts to public education.
While proposed cuts to education have overwhelmed the nation, the organization called the day of demonstrations primarily in response to a recent vote by the House of Representatives to cut 16 percent of the total funding from the Department of Education.
Part of this resolution includes a 15 percent slash to Pell Grant funding, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates, by more than $800 for the neediest students. Over 9 million lower-income students currently receive the Pell Grant; those students come from families whose total annual income is around $20,000 and many of them can hardly sustain another blow without being forced to drop out of school.
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education credits the Pell Grant program as being the “cornerstone of African American higher education,” because nearly 50 percent of African-American undergraduate students use this funding to assist in tuition and living expenses. Minimizing this funding would be no small matter to the nearly 70 percent of African-Americans who don’t graduate from college and point to the high cost of tuition as the main reason.
“Being able to use this money for textbooks, transportation, child care, or other costs can make the difference between staying in and dropping out of school,” USSA President Lindsay McCluskey asserted.
The resolution also cuts $25 million from TRIO, a federal program that reduces barriers to higher education for underrepresented and disadvantaged youth, and it eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), a program to encourage access to postsecondary education by providing support to students with the lowest Expected Family Contribution.
The USSA asked demonstrators, while protesting against their own state’s public education budget cuts, to call their senators imploring them to vote against the Department of Education funding cut proposals.
While legislators across the nation are placing budget woes on the backs of students, it’s clear that this is not the prerogative of the American public. A Harris poll released mid-February found that 71 percent of Americans opposed cutting federal education spending. This was more than any other program except social security.
At the National Governors Association winter meeting, the group concluded that increasing college attainment rates is a crucial priority for economic competitiveness.
“In the future, more than two-thirds of jobs will require an advanced degree—whether it is a degree from a two-year community college, four-year university, technical program or other credential,” Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said. “We need to put the right policies in place to meet this workforce demand."