US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

America’s Higher Ed Assistance Programs About to Crack Under Intense Pressure

Wednesday, February 15, 2012Joe Brenckle 202-224-2465

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a speech to the American Association of Community Colleges today, Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that he was concerned the nation’s funding of financial assistance programs for higher education could crack under the intense pressure of increased enrollment.

“If things do not change dramatically, I am concerned that our system of funding for higher education is going to crack under pressure,” said Senator Enzi. “Since 2008, federal funding for student aid programs has been increased dramatically and in a way that draws in more and more students.  This has been a needed boost for thousands of students during one of the worst recessions in American history.  However, it has also strained the limits of federal student aid programs, and without change, is simply unsustainable.”

Senator Enzi said there are already significant problems in sustaining federal student aid programs like the Pell Grant program.  In the past ten years, funding for the Pell Grant program has gone from roughly $7 billion to over $40 billion and the number of students served has nearly tripled.  However, this dramatic increase in funding has proven insufficient to meet the needs of the thousands of new students made eligible by changes to the program.  Over the past two years, Congress has been forced to make a number of ad hoc changes in order to fill funding gaps, but efforts to preserve Pell Grants have come at the expense non-traditional and community college students. While Pell funding is sufficient for the next two years, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that the program will need substantially more money next year in order to maintain the current maximum grant.

“I am disappointed that many of the proposals in the President’s budget appear to just be spending more money without doing anything to address the underlying systemic forces that are straining federal student aid programs,” Senator Enzi said.  “We cannot afford to wait two more years to address another shortfall in these programs.  If we do, whatever is done will again be at the expense of America’s students.”

Senator Enzi’s full speech is attached.

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