Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dodd Moves To Raise Pell Grants

After having similar Democratic attempts shot down in the previous GOP-dominated Congress, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) has proposed legislation that would raise the maximum amount available under the Federal Pell Grant program to fund college educations for students from low and moderate-income families.

Dodd's S.899 would raise the maximum annual grants from the current $4,310 to $7,600 for the 2007-2008 academic year and would gradually increase the Pell Grant to $11,600 by the 2011-2012 school year.

"The benefits of Pell grant aid cannot be overstated. Pell grants are beneficial to individual students as well as our society as a whole," said Dodd. "By increasing the Pell grant, we make a college education more affordable, and thus, make it more likely that qualified and hard working low- and moderate-income students will attend. It would be a significant loss to this great Nation if a generation of individuals were not able to earn a college degree simply because they could not afford to pay for it."

Prepared to answer Republican criticism that the increase is too large initially and over the next five years, Dodd cites the fact that the buying power of the current grant is significantly smaller than it was 30 years ago. In 1975, the maximum Pell grant covered 80 percent of the average student's tuition, fees, room, and board at 4-year public universities, while in 2006 the typical grant covered just 33 percent of the total charges at the same schools.

"That's not just a drop in aid, it's a free-fall," said Dodd. "The cornerstone of American democracy is providing all citizens with access and opportunities so that through hard work they can achieve the 'American dream.' We must keep that dream alive by providing students the financial opportunity to attend college."

And Dodd points out that it's a nasty one-two punch from the Bush administration to have students unable to afford higher education after suffering through years of the horribly under-funded No Child Left Behind program.

"Over the past several years, the administration has not raised the maximum Pell grant. On top of leaving millions of children behind by underfunding K-12 education, they are also leaving students behind who have done well in school and want the chance to go on to college," said Dodd, who is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. "If we are serious about leaving no student behind--if we are serious about having a society where equal opportunity for all is more than just rhetoric--then we must increase the Pell grant."

The bill, which already has eight cosponsors, has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.