SBU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., above, is a supporter of the limits on tuition increases by SUNY 2020. STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO
“The proposed cuts to Pell Grants — the cornerstone of federal higher education financial aid — will have a devastating impact on Stony Brook University students,” SBU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., above, said in an April 29 statement from LIRACHE. STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO

The Long Island Regional Advisory Council on Higher Education and Suffolk County leaders joined forces with university presidents, students and officials in releasing a report to tackle a proposed Pell Grant freeze for the 2015-2016 award year.

The non-binding budget resolution set forth by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests a 10-year freeze on the maximum grant award at $5,775 as well as a $90 billion cut from the federal Pell Grant program, according to the 10-page report released in July, “One in One Hundred: Examining the Impact of a 10-Year Freeze on Pell Grants on Long Island.”

While the proposal is not specific to Long Island students, it would significantly affect Long Island students.

“As of the 2013-2014 award year, one of every 100 Pell Grant recipients in the nation attended college on Long Island,” Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory, D-Amityville, said.

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Thirty percent of Stony Brook University’s undergraduate population is directly impacted, Matthew Whelan, vice president for strategic initiatives at Stony Brook University, said in a press release.

“The proposed cuts to Pell Grants—the cornerstone of federal higher education financial aid—will have a devastating impact on Stony Brook University students,” University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. said in a April 29 statement from LIRACHE. “In fact, Pell Grants might just be the most significant resource that exists right now for helping students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds gain access to higher education.”

County Legislator Sarah Anker, D-Mt. Sinai, who is chairwoman of the Education and Information Technology Committee, said the report’s main goal is to express the freeze’s impact on the local and global economies. She mentioned that both would be difficult to sustain if Congress chooses to strip students of a chance at a decent education.

“I’m not sure why they’re cutting. I’m assuming they think they’re going to save money, but they’re not looking at the bigger picture,” Anker said. “They’re not looking at the vision of helping our country maintain its ability to stay with new technology, higher paying jobs. Every country’s investing in education and here we are pulling away from our investment. It’s the wrong thing to do.”

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The report said the cost of higher education rises at a steady 5 percent each year.

The study said that data provided by John Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association, shows “70 percent of people without a college degree will remain in the same or fall into a lower economic station than that of their parents, while 55 percent of people with a college degree will perform better economically than their parents did.”

The Pell Grant, which was originally offered by the federal government in 1972 as the “Basic Educational Opportunity Grant,” has been awarded to eligible low-income students for the past 43 years. Over the last four decades, the maximum grant amount awarded to students has increased yearly.

Now, with steadily increasing college costs, increases in the demand for education and increases in the need for financial aid, the buying power of the Pell Grant has diminished drastically since the program was first created.

“In the 1979-1980 fiscal year, a maximum Pell Grant covered 99 percent of the cost of attending a two-year public institution and 77 percent of the cost of attending a four-year public institution,” the report said. “In 2013-2014, the maximum Pell Grant covered only 52 percent of the cost of a two-year public institution and 31 percent of the cost of a four-year public institution.”

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The House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), wrote the proposal to freeze the Pell Grant program.

Brent Robertson, a spokesman for Price, said in an email to The Statesman that the goal of the proposed freeze was to make the Pell Grant program more sustainable.

“This starts by targeting Pell Grants to students who need the most assistance,” Robertson said. “In recent years, students from higher income households have become eligible for Pell. In fact, the Department of Education attributed 14 percent of growth in the program between 2008 and 2011 to expansions that were made to the needs-analysis formula. Increasing eligibility to those with higher incomes drains resources from those who need the most help.”

“The House of Representatives chose not to make students a priority in the budget process,” Gregory said. “If the Pell program were to sustain these cuts, college would become even further out of reach for the millions of low-income students who benefit from this program.”

Anker, who mentioned the concept of the “American Dream” in a July 8 press release, said America is a place where people come to accomplish their aspirations with the support they need. Calling this country the “land of opportunity,” she spoke of education as that which allows people to help, support and protect one another.

“The government supports the pursuit of happiness, and in that pursuit we must continue to support each other,” she said. “Education provides an opportunity to find happiness and to obtain your dream. I think it’s our job to provide those resources for our residents.”

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Anker said she hopes the report will provide a bigger picture of what is needed regarding education in our country, while Gregory said a copy of the report will be sent to Long Island’s congressional delegation as soon as Congress reconvenes.

Update: Saturday, August 29, 7:45 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a response from Brent Robertson, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia).

One in One Hundred – Examining the Impact of a 10-Year Freeze on Pell Grants on Long Island

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