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Higher Ed Groups Gather Signatures to Protect Pell Grants

In hopes of saving Pell Grants from getting slashed by the congressional "Super Committee" charged with deficit reduction, a new lobbying effort is under way by the Student Aid Alliance, a group of 74 higher education associations, advocacy groups, and other organizations.

The alliance issued a statement yesterday defending the nearly 40-year-old student-aid program as vital to the economic future of the country.

So far, the statement has nearly 1,800 signatures of support.

"Recent budget deals have already cut $30 billion from the student-aid programs, sacrificing some students' benefits to pay for others. States across the country are cutting higher education from their own budgets," the statement said. "That's why it's more important than ever to preserve, protect, and provide adequate funding for the core federal student-aid programs—such as Pell Grants and student-loan benefits. Together, these programs offer students an opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills our nation demands for a strong recovery."

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is beginning its final month of deliberation before its late-November deadline for cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. Pell Grants have been seen at risk in the debt-ceiling debate, as my colleagues have reported in the Politics K-12 blog.

As the nation continues to examine the spending of taxpayer dollars, higher education must anticipate more proposals to cut student aid, the alliance says in its tool kit for groups to use in their lobbying efforts. Its main tactic is to secure a large number of signers to the 'Save Student Aid' statement of support from college administrators, faculty, and students.

In July, advocacy groups rallied for a "Save Pell Day" to draw attention to potential reductions in the popular student-aid program.

The Pell Grant program has grown from serving more than 5 million students a year to almost 10 million students in 2011 with a maximum grant of $5,550. The cost of the program has grown from $13 million to $36 billion in that same period. While it once covered two-thirds of the cost to attend a four-year university, now a Pell Grant pays for about one-third of college expenses.

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