WHILE American students are beginning to lag behind their foreign competitors, further bad news awaits college students in every state, especially those in northern states where taxes are often higher.
Despite President Bush's praise for the Pell Grant program during the 2004 election campaign, it now appears that in the 2005-2006 college year, many students will get smaller amounts of aid, and about 80,000 students who thought they were qualified to receive grants will receive none.
The Pell Grant cuts are expected to save the government $300 million, perhaps not a large amount of money in a program that will disburse $12 billion to students next year.
As a matter of fact, though, $12 billion is a drop in the bucket when one considers the disgraceful, pork-laden $388 billion budget bill the last Congress passed before it went home for the holidays. A disproportionate amount of the pork went to small western states whose lawmakers have the greatest longevity and thus hold important committee and subcommittee chairmanships.
Pell Grants are awarded on the basis of family income and need, and parents who earn at least $15,000 will be especially affected in states like New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
This is because the amount families will be able to deduct for state and local taxes for Pell Grant purposes will be cut, even if those taxes have increased in the meantime. The Department of Education says it has no choice but to make these adjustments, even though they amount to a lump of coal in the holiday stocking for many young people who plan to attend college next year. The maximum amount for such grants this year is $4,050, and the neediest families, of course, should have priority.
The problem is how you define needy. For college tuition-payment purposes, most families are needy.
As an official of private Knox College in Illinois commented, some families who are not eligible for the grants "can't just sit down and write checks for $30,000 a year." Private colleges on the whole are far more expensive, but publicly supported institutions are raising their tuition as fast as they can, too.
It is strange in a world where global competition is a given, and more and more companies are moving overseas to take advantage of a talent pool of educated students as well as lower wage costs, that President Bush and Congress apparently think so little of their college-attending constituents that they feel the need to nick the Pell Grants, which have done so much to create new opportunities for higher education.
A country does not prosper by ballistic missile defense systems favored by the military-industrial complex. If the U.S. continues with such twisted priorities, this country will eventually become a land of people with helmets but no brains.