Tag Archives: entitlement

Should Pell Grants Be Entitlements?

President Obama has made reforming federal assistance to college students—with the aim of making it financially easier for more of them to obtain their degrees—-a centerpiece of his administration’s goals. In his State of the Union address on Jan. 27 he called for expanding the Pell grant program that currently serves about 7 million low-income college students, both by raising the maximum annual amount of the grants, currently $5,500, to $6,900 by 2019, and by turning the Pell program into a Social Security-style entitlement that would require Congress to allocate funds automatically to cover every student who qualified.
The rationale that Obama gave to Congress for the huge proposed boost in the size of Pell grants, outstripping inflation and accounting for a major portion of the president’s proposed $77.8 billion in Education Department spending for fiscal 2011 (a 31 percent increase over fiscal 2010) is that “no one should go broke because they choose to go to college.” That’s a worthy sentiment, but it raises an important question: What exactly will a massive additional transfer of federal funds to college students accomplish? The Pell program already costs the government $18 billion a year (Obama’s proposed changes would raise that amount to $30 billion), and another $92 billion goes to support the federal student loan program. Yet there’s evidence that, while the cash infusions from the government, which date back to President Johnson’s Great Society initiatives of the 1960s, have certainly boosted college enrollments, they have also contributed to skyrocketing college tuitions (a 500 percent increase since 1980, far outpacing inflation), along with generally dismal graduation rates indicating that for nearly half of all young people who enroll in college these days, the years they spend there are a waste of time and money, much of it taxpayers’ money in the form of grants and loan assistance.
Yet the Obama administration seems determined to throw good higher-education money after bad, so to speak. In his State of the Union address, Obama also proposed making it easier for college graduates with low-paying jobs to pay off their federal loans. Their monthly payments would be limited to no more than 10 percent of their “discretionary income” (adjusted gross income that exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line), and after 20 years (10 years if they work in public service), all federal loan balances would be forgiven. Under current law (enacted by Congress in 2007) student borrowers already have a pretty good repayment deal in the federal loan system: Monthly payments can’t total more than 15 percent of discretionary income, and loan balances are forgiven after 25 years. Obama’s proposals would make the deal even sweeter, and also more expensive for taxpayers.

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Am I Diverse Enough Now?

I cannot reflect upon my four years at UC Berkeley without mentioning the word “Diversity.” When one’s college experience is oversaturated by incessant lessons in racial and ethnic awareness, the word becomes unavoidable in any mention of Berkeley. Berkeley’s particular concept of diversity seemed to avoid the basic goal of fostering cultural tolerance and understanding. Instead, it appeared to encourage a divisive culture of victimhood and entitlement.

Housing students by race seemed to me an odd approach to ending racial division. During my freshman year, I lived two floors below the African American Theme Program floor. Other such floors included the Asian Pacific American Theme Program, the latino-centered Casa Magdalena Mora, and the Unity House, a gay-themed housing unit that allows you to have a roommate of the opposite sex. From what I remember, black students were the only ones participating in the African American Theme Program. Though students of all races and ethnicities are allowed to live in any of the available themed housing units, rarely did I see students living in housing centered on a culture different from their own.

According to the UC Berkeley housing website, the benefits of living in a racially themed housing unit include field trips, retreats, and dinner with faculty.

The special perks of being a minority did not end in the dormitories. The Berkeley Student Life Advising Service offers academic guidance for underrepresented students. At Berkeley, underrepresentation is measured solely in terms of race, so a conservative student that is noticeably underrepresented in an overwhelmingly liberal campus need not apply. Meanwhile, minority students can turn to Summer Research Opportunities for Underserved Undergraduates for more academic resources

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