What the Debt Ceiling Legislation Means for Your College Education

abcThis has been the summer of the debt crisis and a seemingly never-ending debate on raising the debt ceiling. Even if you didn’t really quite understand–or care to understand–the impact of the resulting bill signed by President Obama earlier this week, one of the biggest public concerns throughout the debate was how it would harm access to higher education. So was the future of college and graduate education harmed or protected?

Nothing is ever completely black or white, but here are some details of what the legislation will do:

Overall, the legislation will couple an increase in the government’s borrowing cap with more than $2 trillion in budget cuts over the coming decade, including cuts to federal education spending. So, do you want good news or bad news first?

If you chose “bad news,” skip to the section that says “bad news.” For “good news,” keep reading.

Good news:

Despite the nail biting induced by fear that the Pell Grant program would encounter extremely deep cuts, the program was salvaged. Need a reminder of what the Pell Grant program is? Basically Pell Grants are designated to students from low-income families. They are grants for college that do not have to be repaid. According to the U.S. Despartment of Education, more than 19 million undergraduate students are expected to be awarded Pell Grants in the upcoming academic year. That’s a lot of students and a lot of education.

Instead of harmful cuts to the program, as was expected, the Pell Grants progam will receive $17 billion in funding at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Which leads us to the bad news:

If the Pell Grant program is safe, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers, where does the $17 billion come from? No, not a money tree. Those don’t exist yet (I’m currently working on it in the secret laboratory in my basement). With a money tree out of the picture, money has to be cut from elsewhere. In this case, saving the Pell Grant program came at the cost of government-subsidized loans for graduate and professional students. The loans will be eliminated in July 2012, which means that graduate students would have to pay interest on their loans while still in school. On top of that, the rate reduction on student loan interest for on-time payments will be eliminated.

Together, these two changes are expected to generate $22 billion in savings, with $17 billion allocated for Pell Grants and the remaining $5 billion helping to reduce the deficit.

Nobody was expecting a win-win situation to come out of the legislation, but it will definitely be interesting to see how pitting undergraduate education against graduate and professional education will work in the long run.

Is this good news or bad news? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

Original Post Date: August 4th, 2011

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