<< < today > >>

Cuts in Student Aid Could Cripple College Attainment


Cuts in Student Aid Could Cripple College Attainment

-Dr. Claude O. Pressnell, Jr-

President, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities

February 17, 2011


The budget proposals being considered in Washington, DC could prove devastating to college qualified low-income students.  The US House of Representatives’ proposal, which is up for a vote on February 18, would cut the Federal Pell Grant by as much as $845, eliminate another smaller grant for especially low-income families, and eliminate support to Tennessee’s only need-based aid program.  All-in-all, this is a message to needy families that college may not be a part of your future.  If the proposed cuts are enacted, college may not be possible for some low-income students this upcoming fall!


Even President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for FY12 calls for the elimination of Pell Grants for the summer, in-school interest subsidy on graduate student loans, and the federal support of state-based student aid programs.  All of which will thwart students’ ability to graduate quicker when colleges are implementing fast-track degree programs amid rising public pressure to prove the value educational experience.


This fall, 48 percent of the first-time full-time college Tennessee resident freshmen attending a private non-profit college were eligible for the Pell Grant.   The Pell Grant is provided to families with combined income of usually $50,000 or less.  Consequently, cuts to the Pell Grant program would impact nearly half of freshman Tennesseans attending a regionally accredited private college.


Clearly, everyone is concerned about the nation’s deficit and wants to see something happen to bring it under control.  We all have to tighten our belts but the cuts to programs should be strategic, not categorical. 


Aid to underprivileged college students is one of the best investments of federally funded social programs available.  The aid is time limited, targeted on a particular purpose, results in a life-beneficial credential, creates a better workforce, and breaks the cycle of poverty for low-income families.  Study after study demonstrate that a college education creates a healthier person who is more civically engaged, pays more taxes, and is less likely to be dependent on other federal or state funded programs.


Students attending Tennessee’s private non-profit colleges and universities receive 72 percent of their financial help from the campus they attend, another 17 percent comes from the state and 11 percent comes from the federal government.  Tennessee’s independent colleges are committed to helping students attend the college that best fits their academic and social needs and they demonstrate that by providing the vast majority of financial help for students.  Adequately funding students so that they can attend college has been a nearly one-half century a partnership among the colleges, the state and the federal government.


Draconian cuts to the federal student aid programs mean that State of Tennessee’s student aid programs will be all the more important!  Tennessee has only one purely need-based aid program, the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA).  This grant goes to students with less than $30,000 in combined family income.  Each year the TSAA assists about 25,000 students but leaves 100,000 eligible students without a grant due to a lack funding.


The bad news is that the TSAA is already out of funds for next fall.  So, in the midst of federal cuts to student aid, the state’s bedrock need-based aid program is out of money as well.  This places increasing pressure on students to borrow more funds, work more than they already are, or defer going to college.


The Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship programs also play a key role in providing aid to low-income students but it does not replace the key role of the TSAA.  Colleges and universities have stepped up boldly to provide increased aid for students.  One leadership example is Sewanee:  The University of the South which just announced a 10 percent reduction in tuition for next year.  The State of Tennessee could reject the federal trend of backing away from students by attempting to fund all of the TSAA college qualified eligible students.


Cuts to student financial aid could cripple the state’s renewed focus on college completion and economic growth.  Increasing the educational attainment in Tennessee is key to all of our futures.



Dr. Claude Pressnell


Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association

1031 17th Avenue South

Nashville, Tennessee 37212

615-242-6400, ext. 201 direct voice line

615-242-8033 fax