Strong support for student aid

As Congress prepares to start working on next year’s funding bills, higher education advocates are encouraging lawmakers to preserve federal student aid programs, in particular Pell grants and student loans.

More than 575 organizations — including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Community College Trustees and about 50 community colleges, districts and state systems — on Wednesday sent a letter to Congress urging leaders to strengthen the Pell Grant program and to protect other student aid programs. Signees also include universities, education associations, student and public interest groups, K-12 school districts and other stakeholders.

The Trump administration last month released its budget outline for fiscal year 2018 that, in part, called to cut more than $3.9 billion from the Pell surplus and to reduce or nix funding for programs such as Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study, TRIO, GEAR UP and other programs.

Focus on jobs, economy

The letter emphasized the importance of financial aid in helping students acquire the postsecondary education and training they need to secure well-paying jobs, which in turn strengthen the national economy.

“At a time when many in our nation are deeply worried about jobs and wages, education and career training provide the surest pathway to secure high-income employment,” the letter said.

It cited federal figures that show unemployment rates drop with higher education attainment. The January 2017 unemployment rate for workers with only a high school diploma was 5.9 percent, compared to 3.7 percent for those with an associate degree and 2.5 for those with a bachelor’s or graduated/professional degree.

Although the Trump budget plan has targeted Pell grants, advocates who want to see year-round Pell grants reinstated are hopeful. Several key lawmakers have supported it, and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has indicated she too could be open to it. Year-round Pell remains a top priority for AACC.

AACC advocates in action: Join community college leaders in the nation’s capital June 12-13 to advocate for the federal community college agenda.

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