COLUMN: Cutting pell grants will lead to more debt

Ah, to be 24 and $60,000 in the hole to Uncle Sam.

When I attain my master’s degree in 2013, I will have six months to find a decent job and start chipping away at the horrible mountain of debt that stands between me and credit-worthiness.  With any luck, I’ll be able to use the income-based repayment option and, ideally, live a life of absolute mediocrity.

Things could be worse, though.

If it weren’t for the Pell Grants I attained as an undergrad, I’d currently be closer to $75,000 in debt. In fact, I probably couldn’t have paid for my first few years of college, so I’d also have private, along with federal, loan sharks after me.

Pell Grants probably won’t be affected by the upcoming fiscal cliff debacle, but they are projected to lose $5.7 billion in funding for the 2014 fiscal year, as previously reported by Central Michigan Life. It seems to me that students from disadvantaged backgrounds will still need grant money in 2014, but maybe conservative lawmakers are correct in assuming that the best way to solve a problem is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And what is a disadvantaged student to do when he or she gets less funding from grant money in 2014?  Take out student loans, of course.

If recent history is any indication, these lucky borrowers will be subjected to some fun stuff in the future. According to the Huffington Post, Congress voted to keep interest rates on subsidized student loans from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in 2012, but they made up for it by eliminating subsidized loans for professional and graduate students (thanks, guys), so it’s hard to believe that interest rate hikes aren’t on the horizon.

Unless millions of jobs drop from the sky in the next 20 years, these new borrowers will face the same struggles in repayment as current borrowers, and no one seems to have a solution for the student loan debt issue.  Conservative lawmakers don’t seem to realize that cutting Pell Grant funding is just robbing Peter (disadvantaged students) to temporarily pay Paul (a futile attempt to balance the mess we call a federal budget).

Changing the Pell Grant system shows an incredible lack of empathy.  I’d venture to guess many lawmakers from both parties never relied on Pell Grants to get through college.  Therefore, it’s easy for them to assume that students can always borrow money from their parents (right, Mitt Romney?).

Instead of placing additional hardships on students, perhaps the government should regulate the cost of higher education at public universities. I’m not saying CMU isn’t the most wonderful place on earth; I’m saying my education costs here shouldn’t have equaled the same amount as three new American-made cars.

I’ll just resign myself to never having any discretionary income.  I can’t help stimulate the economy, Uncle Sam. I have student loans to pay.


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