Yanking student aid hurts us all

The greatest engine of economic growth is people. Namely, people with the skills, training, and motivation to enter the workforce, earn a paycheck, pay taxes, and become an active citizen.

Higher education, in the form of technical college, university, or some other job training, is often key to the success of working-age people.  Yet as we’ve heard repeatedly in recent years, college costs are climbing while students’ ability to pay is diminishing.

One could logically assume now is the time to increase federal aid to students going to college. After all, a woman who earns a four-year-degree and becomes a teacher or engineer will pay more in taxes on her salary than she would pay working as a waitress, a personal care attendant or a bank teller.

Down the line, she’ll be far less likely to need food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance or other programs that help low-income people.  She’ll be far less likely to fall into a life of crime and end up sucking money in jail.

When she qualifies for Medicare, she’ll have probably paid for her own care through the taxes she’s paid.  She will have made a life for herself, all because of a small investment in her future when she was in college.

This investment is common sense. Unless, of course, you’re a right-leaning politician hell-bent on small government.  In a flurry of short-sighted budget-cutting, Republicans have worked to choke off the availability of Pell grants, especially to students without high school diplomas or GEDs. In other words, exactly the kind of people for whom a college degree would be a monumental step forward.

On July 1, Pell Grants for more than 120,000 college students will be yanked after Congress changed the qualifications for the program. Effective July 1, students without high school diplomas and others who have spent more than six years in college will be cut off. About 300,000 more will have grants cut due to changes in income requirements.

Sadly, without federal aid, many can’t go to college at all.  It’s not a matter of their needing to work harder or to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” In fact, many students can’t even get private loans, much less take on extra repayment burden while trying to attend college, work, and sometimes even raise a family.

Federal aid has already seen cuts, and more will follow if something isn’t done.  If some on Capitol Hill have their way, we’ll keep hacking at the student aid budget until it just disappears altogether.

Of course, maybe this doesn’t matter.  Maybe I’m making a big deal out of something nobody should care about.  After all, maybe you’re not in college.  Maybe you’re done with that stage of your life.  Let today’s college students worry about that, right?  They’ll figure it out for themselves, right?

Perhaps, but I suspect this is a bigger issue than most people want it to be, and we can’t remain quiet about it.