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Duncan Pushes for Maximum Pell; Obama Listens to Students

As federal funding for financial aid remains uncertain, more activity took place on the advocacy front following Save Pell Day day on Monday.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Department of Education budget for FY 2012. He noted that the Pell Grant program was helping millions of Americans get new skills and that demand has skyrocketed from 6 million to 9 million grants in four years.

"College has never been more necessary for success in the global economy, but it has never been more expensive and out of reach for increasing numbers of Americans," Duncan's written statement said. "We can't afford to go backwards. We must once again lead the world in college graduates.

The secretary also spoke about protecting Title I and IDEA formula funds for students most at risk and expanding programs that support state and local policies, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and the department's learning and college-completion programs.

Also yesterday, Tyler Kingkade reported in the Huffington Post that President Obama held a conference call with college students concerned that young people would shoulder much of the burden of spending cuts in an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. The president was responding to a letter signed by more than 120 student-government presidents urging a solution to the debt talks—however, it did not make make specific demands about Pell Grants or student aid.

The call was not open to the media or announced in advance. The Huffington Post reports Obama thanked the students for their input and was very engaged in the conversation.

Just how student aid would fare under the various plans being floated in Washington is unclear. Pell Grants, the majority of which help students from families with less than $30,000, are likely targets of reform in plans by both Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. In its efforts to reign in the programs' expenses, the administration's 2012 budget proposal eliminates the year-round Pell and subsidies for graduate students with loans.

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