The cost of attending college continues to rise, and working families are having trouble keeping up. Over the past five years, education funding has been slashed by politicians pursuing a misguided strategy of austerity. This has forced public colleges to raise tuition and cut back on student and faculty support to balance their budgets.
Yesterday, two Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), introduced a bill that provides a vision of a different path forward. They proposed increasing the limits on Pell Grants, which currently cover less than one-third of the cost of attendance at a public four-year university. That’s the lowest value in the program’s history. Landrieu and Hirono’s bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant to $8,900 from $5,730, extending a lifeline to millions of students struggling to afford an education.
The senators have paired this bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) bill to lower student debt interest rates. Together, they won’t solve the student debt crisis but they are a very good start. Unfortunately, legislative prospects are bleak. Just last month, House Republicans voted to cut Pell Grant funding and choke off support for working families. However, these bills can be a counterweight to Republicans and a rallying cry for progressives. That’s because they embrace the idea that our government should invest in our students. It should not turn its back on their future.