Education funding should have bipartisan support

Meanwhile, the cutting spree in Washington has also yielded bad news for higher education. After a year marked by the successful push to increasing the maximum Pell Grant award and reform student loans, students are now on defense.

Due to the passage of H.R. 1, nine million low-income students across America face up to an $845 cut to their individual Pell Grants. More stunningly, H.R. 1 calls for outright kicking 1.7 million students off of the Pell Grant program altogether. Even President Obama, who owes much of his victory in 2008 to college-aged voters, has proposed to reduce Pell Grant spending by $100 billion over the next ten years – all in the name of bipartisanship.

Similarly, amendments to H.R. 1 stripped funding to the student loan reform law which is designed to protect students from predatory lenders. Not only would these reforms protect students, but they would reduce government spending $87 billion over the next ten years.

When it comes down to it though, one question naturally emerges: where is the money?

Washington has a few options in supporting higher education. The stimulus package did have a positive effect on higher education. Amongst the stimulus bill’s language were “Maintenance of Effort” provisions which bound states to maintain higher education spending to at least 2006-2007 levels; should a state cut below that level, it would’ve lost much of its share of the stimulus. Accordingly, states obliged with these provisions – during the 2010-2011 fiscal year the CSU budget actually increased, partially in order to comply with these provisions. While the stimulus package and Maintenance of Effort provisions will not be a factor for this upcoming budget, any efforts to insert these provisions would be a step in the right direction.

In regards to preserving financial aid, we need to ensure that aid is going to students and not the shareholders of the 2,000 for-profit colleges in the US. According to the Government Accountability Office, over $24 billion in federal financial aid goes to for-profit colleges annually, up to 90 percent of which can be used to subsidize their operations.

While we would not advocate for cutting off aid to the students that go to those colleges, we need to demand transparency and accountability from for-profit institutions. A number of cases have occurred in which financial aid officers at these institutions have encouraged students to falsify applications and used unethical tactics to maximize their allocation. “Gainful employment” requirements, which tied for-profit colleges’ eligibility for financial aid to the ability of their graduates to find a job, are key in ensuring transparency. Sadly though, the future of these requirements is in jeopardy due to the successful passage of the Kline Amendments in the House.

We cannot afford to neglect higher education – the Public Policy Institute of California estimates by 2025, California will be a million college degrees short of maintaining its economy. Currently, much of California’s current assets are due to public higher education – Silicon Valley would hardly be the place it is today without San Jose State University. Similarly, one in seven college graduates in San Diego attended San Diego State University.

Without a robust public higher education in California, our communities, our state and our nation stand to loose much in the future. Our government leaders and voters have a choice: support higher education or continue down the costly path of college inaccessibility and student loan defaults.

Education is not a Democratic or Republican issue: it is an American issue.

Christopher Chavez is the president of the California State Student Association (CSSA) and a student at California State University in Long Beach.