Paying for College
Opinion Piece by TICUA President Claude Pressnell
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has officially declared that the State’s community colleges are FREE of charge to any Tennessean wishing to attend. The Tennessee Promise and the adult Reconnect programs provide student aid to cover tuition and required fees at the State’s community colleges and reduced tuition and fees at universities offering Associate degree programs. The reduced tuition benefit is available at many of Tennessee’s private nonprofit colleges and universities.
To make this possible, Tennessee is dependent on the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant serves as the nation’s bedrock grant in making college affordable. This grant helps fund the Tennessee Promise and the adult Reconnect programs as well as access to four-year universities. The State’s programs are “last dollar,” meaning that the Pell Grant provides the “first dollar” of aid before the State invests Promise and Reconnect funds. It’s a great example of a state-federal partnership in making college affordable.
Tennessee students depend on the Pell Grant to make their dreams of attending the college or university that best fits their needs a reality. The Pell Grant is focused on low-income families. Whether the student decides to use the free community college option or choose to enroll directly into a university level program, the Pell is there to serve as the first dollars available in paying for college.
The challenge is that the Pell Grant has not kept pace with the cost of living; much less, the cost of higher education. Senator Lamar Alexander has been a champion of the Pell Grant program. Yet, to date, Congress has not chosen to fund an inflation index for the Pell Grant. Each year the Pell remains stagnant students lose the purchasing power of the student aid program. As well, it takes more Tennessee state dollars to fund the Promise and Reconnect programs.
When the Pell Grant doesn’t keep pace with inflation, it not only places a greater burden on the State, it hurts students and institutions. Consequently, when the Pell Grant lags behind, it costs institutions more in institutional aid and may result in increased student debt. In fall of 2015, ten of Tennessee’s private non-profit colleges and universities had a higher percentage of students receiving the Pell Grant than any of the State’s community colleges.
When Congress returns to Washington after the August recess, we encourage them to keep the Pell Grant robust and strongly consider attaching a permanent inflation index to the grant’s funding formula. The future of Tennessee’s students depends on it.
Dr. Claude Pressnell, Jr.
About the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
TICUA engages Tennessee's private, non-profit colleges and universities to work collaboratively in areas of public policy, cost containment, and professional development to serve better the State and its citizens. For more information about TICUA, please visit www.ticua.org