ACCT Urges Congress to Uphold Its Commitment o Disadvantaged Students

WASHINGTON-Tomorrow, the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its official cost estimates for the Pell Grant program. Based on projections from January, we anticipate that the official baseline will project a significant surplus for the Pell Grant program over the next several fiscal years. Given the scale of the anticipated surplus, we are concerned that Congressional appropriators may identify the Pell Grant program as a source of funds to be diverted to other priorities. The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) urges Congress to maintain support for the Pell Grant program and to block attempts to rescind or reallocate surplus funds.

Approximately one-third of the seven million postsecondary students who receive Pell Grants each year attend community colleges. The program represents the federal government's commitment to ensuring that qualified students from all income levels are able to afford and persist in college.

"Many community college students would not be able to pursue higher education without the aid of Pell Grants," said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown. "These funds were intended to assist students, and we urge Congress to maintain its commitment to the nation's neediest students by retaining the maximum resources available for the Pell Grant program. In addition to keeping the program financially solvent, doing so will open up the opportunity to reinstate aspects of the program that were cut several years ago. ACCT strongly opposes any efforts to divert funds from the Pell Grant program."

Revised cost estimates for the Pell Grant program can be attributed to various factors, including a reduction in demand. During the recent recession we saw increases in community college enrollment and the number of students qualified to receive a Pell Grant. While number of recipients and costs have both trended downward as the economy has improved, program costs may increase in the future. Given the cyclical nature of the program, raiding the current surplus could impact the future stability of the program.

By 2020, 65 percent of all job openings will require college education or training. In order to support tomorrow's workforce and our local, state, and national economies, we must provide opportunities for individuals to receive the education and training necessary for the jobs of the future.

"Diverting essential funding intended for student aid puts education and essential skills training further out of reach for our neediest students," Brown said. "If we raid such vital student aid as the Pell Grant program today, then the money that students need to succeed will not be there tomorrow. Chipping away available funding for Pell Grants is chipping away at the nation's educational and economic infrastructure-something we can't afford to do."

Cuts made to the Pell Grant program in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 also contributed to the current surplus. These cuts have resulted in a reduction in aid or eligibility for many students. In FY 2011, Congress made the sweeping move to end year-round Pell Grants, preventing students from receiving an additional annual aid disbursement that supported students' abilities to attend college throughout the year. In FY 2012 Congress enacted additional eligibility changes to the Pell Grant program in order to generate savings.

"We ask that Congress utilize these surplus funds to reinvest in the Pell Grant program, and reverse recent cuts that include year-round availability of the Pell Grant program," said Brown. "Year-round Pell Grants were an essential resource for our students, allowing for continuous access to coursework and learning. Community college students in particular benefit greatly from the scheduling flexibility made possible by year-round Pell Grants. We strongly encourage Congress to apply the surplus to support student persistence and completion and to reinvest funds that were intended for needy students."

For more information, contact David Conner at dconner@acct.org or 202.775.4454.

About the Association of Community College Trustees

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. For more information, go to www.acct.org. Follow ACCT on Twitter at twitter.com/CCTrustees.