Over the last three decades, the price of going to college has more than tripled, putting college out of reach for many Americans, and saddling millions more with enormous debt before they even began their careers.
It has never been more important for Americans to continue their education beyond high school. Unfortunately, it has never been more expensive to do so.
Currently, the maximum Pell grant award is $5,920, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public university is $10,750. That does not take into consideration the cost of books, lodging, transportation, etc. According to their website, the average cost of attendance at the University of Alabama is $25,336 per year, the cost of attendance at the University of North Alabama is $19,966 per year.
It is estimated that two thirds of all jobs will require a college degree or advanced job training by 2020, but according to 2010 census data, less than 40% of Americans over the age of 25 would qualify.
Gone are the days that a high school diploma was enough, but the majority of Americans simply do not have the financial resources to pursue those skills on their own, and the current aid available to them is not enough to bridge that gap. There was a time when the Pell grant was enough to cover the cost of tuition, fees and books at most public universities, but like many other programs, the Pell grant has not been raised to meet the costs of inflation.
This puts our nation and our economy at risk.
It was innovation that made our nation great, but for years we rested on our laurels, and innovation and our economy have suffered.
In recent years this trend has started to change, but innovation cannot grow without education. When education falls behind technology it causes three main problems.
First, when a person does not understand technology it is hard to be innovative. Increasing the education of Americans increases the potential for innovation. Without education, new technologies will be delayed or overlooked.
Second, innovation does the economy little good if you do not have qualified workers to fill the jobs it creates, and without people to do the work, ideas cannot be realized and innovation suffers.
Third, if we do not have the workforce to fill the jobs here, the jobs will go elsewhere.
Increasing the funding for college and advanced job training is not only good for the people who receive the funding and their families, it is good for our economy and our nation.
As stated earlier, the Pell grant has been allowed to fall behind. I propose three steps to update the program.
- We need to raise the maximum grant amount to $10,750.
This figure would represent the average cost of tuition and fees plus the average cost of books.
- We need to change the way the EFC is figured.
The EFC is the Expected Family Contribution, and much like the Pell grant it has not met the needs of the time. This means that many people who qualify for the grant, still cannot go to college because their EFC is unrealistic.
- We need to include advanced job training, which does not require a traditional degree, through the Pell grant or similar program.
These are not steps that would make America dominate in the world market, these are steps that we must take just to remain competitive and keep our economy afloat.
If we do not have the people to fill more than 25 percent of the jobs, we will lose those jobs, and if we lose those jobs, we will lose many of the jobs that don’t require advanced training because most of our citizens will not be able to buy the products that support those jobs.
We are currently spending $34 billion on the Pell grant program. These changes would require an investment of $50 billion to almost double the award amount and increase its availability and grants, job training would require and investment of $16 billion a year. That would increase our total investment in these grants to $100 billion.
Of the $66 billion in new funds, $5.1 billion would be raised through the tax revenue on the 400,000 new jobs it would create. The rest of the money would be generated by changes to the corporate tax structure.
My plan would also provide partial waivers for some graduates and allow all graduates to refinance their college debt at zero interest.
Many people would say that $100 billion is too much for the federal government to invest in these programs, but we can find the money to spend nearly $600 billion on defense. While the defense of our nation is paramount, we must insure that we have a future to defend.
It is a sad fact, but we live in a nation where politicians make their careers talking about what they do for our children and grandchildren, and then turn around and cut funding to the one thing that affects their lives more than any other.
It is time to stop talking about our children’s future, and start taking steps to make it brighter, and the first step is changing our policies toward education.