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Republican lawmakers, in an effort to cut nearly all spending, have recently been eyeing Pell Grants. Pell Grants provide low-income students with grants to help pay for the rising cost of attending college. The cost of the program is expected to exceed $40 billion for the 2012 fiscal year.
Some members of congress have started to discuss ways to reduce the costs of the program by lowering the maximum grant or somehow restrict eligibility. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education that deals with the program, has investigated whether there are ways to tie the grants to achievement or graduation rates.
In a radio interview early in April, Rehberg compared Pell Grants to “welfare” and decried the fact that students who receive them don’t have any sort of graduation requirement and could go straight from the education grant to “food stamps.”
“So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” said Rehberg in an interview with Blog Talk Radio. “You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college. And there ought to be some kind of commitment and endgame.”
Rehberg added under the federal program, a student could “go to school for nine years on Pell Grants and you don’t even have to get a degree.”
Many students and lawmakers did not agree with Rehberg’s unfair characterization of the people that use the program. “I don’t know if it’s a fair characterization that someone has decided to go through the hoops of applying to college, getting enrolled and showing up every day because it’s the welfare lifestyle,” Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation said. “If the issue is people are being lazy and living off the dole, so to speak, I don’t think their first step is to enroll in college.”
“The other programs that he’s listed here are minimal subsistence emergency-type programs — like food stamps and energy assistance and section 8 housing — providing the bare essentials for people who can’t afford them. Pell Grants aren’t even in that category,” he added.
Delisle also pointed out the hypocrisy of the congressman’s statement in light of the GOP’s battle against outcome measures for for-profit schools. “The Obama administration has been trying to restrict Pell Grant eligibility at for-profit colleges that have really poor outcomes for students,” he said. “Many Republicans have been fighting it tooth and nail. So it’s interesting to hear them say things like how they’re very concerned about all this Pell Grant money being wasted on people who don’t get degrees and seem to be sitting around not doing much of anything. We know that if that type of behavior is going on, it’s going on most at these for-profit colleges. There seems to be a major inconsistency in some of the rhetoric there.”