Three years ago, President Obama boldly proclaimed that the United States would have the highest percentage of citizens with college degrees in the world by the year 2020. To get there, we need to address a few things. One, we need to reduce the college dropout rate (with more than one in three failing to graduate college within six years of entering). Second, we need to get more kids in the pipeline, increasing those entering and thus increasing those successfully completely. And third, we need to make sure that students have the funding to actually seek and complete a college degree, a challenge proving more difficult in our struggling economy.
The federal Pell grant program was established to provide “need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.” Currently, Pell grants are capped at $5,500 per student per year.
As part of the CR earlier this year, Congress acted to slash total Pell funding by nearly a third, while reducing that individual grant maximum by a sizable amount (as the cost of attending postsecondary education continues to rise). And the current fight over the debt ceiling and future budgets signals that Pell may be facing even deeper cuts.
Second Act. The education community rises to act. Reformers and status quoers joining together to protect Pell funding, protect college access, and protect our national commitment that any one can and should pursue a postsecondary education.
Over at Education Trust, they are promoting their Save Pell Day, where next Monday advocates will take to Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to defend the Pell grant program. The Education Equality Project is encouraging friends to sign a save Pell petition. Even groups like USPIRG are getting into the action, lending some voice in defense of Pell.
(Of course, for those who think the fight is already over, you can take a look at this letter some academic scholars prepared for the College Board, outlining how to move forward following a complete cutting of such an important program.)
With most education policy issues, we struggle to see how a specific decision affects individual people. Will a family in Tonawanda, NY really feel the state’s Race to the Top grant? Did that second grader in Jackson, MS really benefit from Reading First? Will changes to the Title I formula really be felt by that specific elementary school in South Central LA? In most cases, no.
But Pell is one of those rare issues where we can clearly see the specific people affected. We can name the kids who may have to drop out of the local college because of a $2k cut to their Pell. We know the specific student who isn’t applying to college because she head Pell grants are being reduced. We can put a very real face on a very serious problem.
In communications, it is often said the most effective of communication strategies are storytelling and personalization. In the Pell fight, it is both an engaging story and thoroughly personal. Just take a look at the voices rallying to Save Pell before the U.S. House of Representatives’ first vote on the issue next week.