Ojakian decries potential federal higher ed cuts

July 18, 2017 GMT

A Trump budget plan to slash Pell Grant funding will hurt needy students, Mark E. Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system warned a congressional committee in a letter sent Tuesday.

The message comes in advance of a hearing on the Trump Administration’s budget before the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. The proposal would eliminate the annual inflation adjustment for Pell Grant awards.

The cut would prevent eligible students from receiving an estimated $165 increase in their 2018-2019 award. For Connecticut students, the loss could add up to $6 million annually, state officials said.

“This is particularly disturbing for our community colleges, where 34 percent of the student body (25,065 students) received a Federal Pell Grant in 2015-2016,” Ojakian said.

Pell Grants have been around since 1972 and are are awarded largely based on income. Most recipients come from working families who often juggle work and family obligations while pursing an education, Ojakian said.

“Their cost of living increases with inflation and they depend on their Pell Grant to do the same, just to make ends meet,” Ojakian said.

Ojakian said the Administration’s proposal cuts $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant Program reserves while the Appropriation Subcommittee on Labor, Health, & Human Services’s budget cuts $3.3 billion. He called either cut potentially devastating to students and the colleges they attend.

His agency oversees not only 12 community colleges in the state, but four regional universities and an on-line degree program.

Ojakian is also worried about the potential full elimination of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program and a 50 percent cut in the Federal Work-Study Program. Additionally, the Federal Perkins Loan Program would expire on September 30, 2017, inhibiting the ability of our institutions to award new loans under this program.

“On behalf of the CSCU community, I urge you to reinstate the inflation adjustment for Pell Grants, and to reconsider these other proposals that would have hurt our students and their ability to pursue an education,” Ojakian said.

The letter was addressed to leaders of the committee including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, a ranking member of house appropriations subcommittee.