The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Paul Ryan’s budget cuts student aid

Dramatic cuts to federal student aid programs are included in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget which passed the Republican-controlled U.S. House last week — a decision he argues is focused on the long term.

A visit to Iowa’s GOP Lincoln Dinner on April 11 marked the second stop in Iowa for the former vice-presidential candidate since the conclusion of the 2012 election. Under his proposal, the maximum Pell Grant award would be frozen at $5,730 for a decade, and the funding of the overall program would be at Congress’ discretion. Currently, funding is mandated each year. The goal of Ryan’s proposal is to balance the federal budget by 2024 through $5 trillion in spending cuts.

Ryan’s budget passed the House 219-205 votes just one day before his visit to the home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Ryan said these student-aid cuts are different than the approach taken in President Obama’s budget, which the Janesville, Wis., native characterizes as being full of “empty promises.” Ryan recognizes his budget will not even be considered by Democrats who control the U.S. Senate, but argues it avoids a “cliff” in funding.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, joined all of his Democratic colleagues in voting against the bill. He said freezing the maximum grant would erode a Pell Grant’s ability to help ease college costs.

“As a former educator, I am committed to ensuring that college is accessible to all who wish to pursue further education, and this proposal would accomplish exactly the opposite,” he said in a statement.

More than 4,000 University of Iowa students, or 20 percent of undergraduates, received a Pell Grant in the 2012-13 academic year. These cuts would rest on their shoulders, said Mark Warner, the UI assistant provost for Student Financial Aid.

“It’s detrimental to students with the highest need,” he said.  “[The budget] is a signal in the near and long-term that there is less support for education at the federal level.”

Freshman Waale Gbara said she would be unable to attend the UI without the scholarships and grants she received this year. She said cutting Pell Grants “defeats the purpose to break the cycle” of helping students with financial need afford college.

Warner looks at financial aid as a four-pronged partnership made up of federal, state, university, and private sources. He said it’s no secret that state funding is far less than it used to be, which puts further pressure on the whole system.

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of the FinAid and Fastweb websites, said at first the cuts to part-time students outlined in Ryan’s budget seem helpful, but the savings are not redirected to other students. Kantrowitz says it’s a pure spending cut to a program that is really beneficial to students who need assistance.

“It’s telling low-income students, college isn’t really possible,” he said. “…America is no longer the country of equal opportunity, because increasingly college is becoming something only the wealthy can afford.”

Kantrowitz said at a time when the U.S. economy is still struggling, the government is failing to make the easiest investment.

“We’re failing to invest in our greatest asset, which is our people,” he said.

Ryan told The Daily Iowan his proposal is striking at an unaddressed issue in the landscape of college affordability, which is how the federal government’s efforts to make college more affordable actually pushes the price up.

“There’s a lot of good work that has been done – [for instance] Richard Vedder’s studies — a lot of these studies are showing that the federal government is in many ways feeding high tuition inflation,” he said.

Researchers who study this specific topic say Ryan is overstating his argument. While some studies show aspects of inflation it is difficult to tie the increase directly to Pell Grants.

“In general, it is difficult to disentangle trends in tuition from other economic trends and say for sure these are caused by Pell Grant increases,” said Lesley Turner, an assistant professor in economics at the University of Maryland.

Turner’s research focused on the cost of tuition for specific students, not the so-called “sticker price.” She found public universities offer less aid to students with Pell Grants, but it’s a low amount — only about 15 cents less one every dollar.

Larry Singell, executive dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at Indiana University, said Ryan’s opinion is “not an accurate assessment of reality.”

Singell, who has also published research on the subject, said the current scope of research does not support such a definite opinion.

“To me this is an academic exercise, [Ryan] is trying to ascribe motive, which is an unfair way to characterize a university,” he said.

More to Discover