DMI Blog

Gabriel Pendas

Making Higher Education a Reality

Higher Education is quickly becoming out of reach for millions of students. We are seeing an alarming trend that is replacing grant aid with student loans. Nearly two thirds of the 15 million college students (over 66 percent) graduate into debt that averages $19,300, and over 200,000 qualified students are completely shut out of higher education because of the costs. Recently in Congress we have seen two pieces of legislation that strives to address these trends and once again make funding for access to higher education a legislative priority as well as a budget from the President that requests an increase in the Pell grant, our county's most basic need based grant. These new legislative pieces begin the work of making college more affordable but what is missing is in all these discussions is the conversation on how we are going to get our country's neediest students into college.

In the House we saw the passage of HR 5 which reduced the interest rates on student loans in half over the next five years. This has been hailed as a great first step but falls far short of addressing the real issues of access in this country.

In the Senate, Senator Kennedy has introduced legislation that reduces the interest rates on student loans, but also proposes a $1050 increase in the maximum pell grant to $5100, as well as an incentive to schools to use the government-lending program instead of private loan companies. This legislation is significantly more comprehensive and gives young people striving to reach college a little more hope that they will be able to afford it.

Congress is not the only place where attention is being placed on access. As stated earlier the President after level funding the pell grant these past five years has finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and recommended an increase in the maximum pell grant award to $4600 this year and $5400 by fiscal year 2012.

It would seem that access to higher education is becoming part of the political discourse, but I have to wonder why in all these debates there is no emphasis on the very programs that work to make college a reality to millions of working families around this country. Programs like Upward Bound and Talent Search which introduce low-income students to the college environment and offer numerous avenues to help ensure not just their entrance into college but also their ability to graduate and receive the degree so necessary to compete in this extremely competitive and demanding global economy.

While going to high school in Miami, college was nothing more than something that the nerds in my classes did. I was more concerned with surviving in the social milieu that surrounded me, by making sure I won the street fights that I needed and skipping classes to hang out with those kids I looked up to, most of whom are dead, on drugs, or in jail. The fact that the pell grant existed was not even known to me until I finally decided to enter community college after receiving my GED (I dropped out when I was 16).

What eventually ensured my entrance into a university was a program similar to Upward Bound at Florida State University. Through this program I was able to attend Florida State the summer of my junior year in high school for two weeks. There I had the opportunity to take the actual SAT while recieving SAT prep courses, attend actual college class, and build relationships with the college administrators that would fight for my admittance into the university two years later. I had no notion that college was even a possibility until then. I was admitted in the Summer of 2001 with a GED and would graduate with a Bachelors in Physics, while having served as the Senate President of the Student Government, and ultimately upon graduation being elected to serve as the Vice-President of the United States Student Association.

These programs that changed my life are only serving 7% of the eligible population and are once again set to be level funded according to the Presidents new budget.

I applaud the absolutely necessary increases in the Pell grant program and the reduction of the interest rates on student loans. I would not have been able to make it through college without the pell and would have graduated with significantly more than the $45,000 in debt that I have. However, I know that if it wasn’t for programs like Upward Bound I would have never made it to college, and it is critical that the discourse include not only how to ensure that students can afford to attend college but also the various steps we can take to make sure they get there.

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Posted at 10:10 AM, Feb 13, 2007 in Education
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