Obama budget proposes Pell Grant cuts - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Obama budget proposes Pell Grant cuts

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -- The president is talking budget, a day after releasing his plan for spending.  Entitlements, like Medicare and Social Security, are the big topic of discussion out of the president's plan.  Obama sent his budget to Congress Monday, ignoring the view of his own deficit commission, which said entitlement programs must be slashed.  But the president says he's willing to work with Republicans to make changes.  He's confident changes can be made quickly on Social Security in order to avoid slashing payments and keep the program stable.

"I believe we can find this common ground, but we're going to have to work. And we owe the American people a government that lives within its means while still investing in our future," President Obama said.

The president is also proposing an increase in funds for education, but one popular program that helps students pay for college could be subject to cuts.

Nationwide, Pell grants currently help 9 million low-income students pay for college, allowing them to avoid taking on hefty student loans.  And the president's proposal calls for ending Pell grants for summer school and reducing the number of students who get the grants over the next decade.  The impact of those cuts could be especially significant for community colleges throughout eastern Iowa.

Jonathon Keniston is married and has three children.  For the past two years, he's been juggling family with getting an education, as a student at Hawkeye Community College.

"One of the main reasons, couple of reasons, I decided to go back to school was for a more secure future and just to have a better plan to be able to financially support my family in the future," Keniston said.

In just a few months, he'll graduate from Hawkeye and then continue his education in radiology at another school.  And Keniston says he simply could not have done it without federal financial aid.

"If it wasn't for the money that I was able to secure through financial aid and Pell grants, my decision to come back to school probably would have been a different outcome," he said.

And Keniston's not alone.  Of the students that apply for financial aid at Hawkeye alone, 55 percent of them receive Pell grants.  And almost half of those students receive the full $5550 available.  But if the president's proposals go through, fewer students might be awarded those grants, meaning they will have to cut back on classes or not attend college at all.

"With the proposed numbers from Congress, it would not even cover the current year's tuition and books.  So they have no choice but to take on some more loan debt or to work more jobs," said Lois Mulbrook, Hawkeye Community College financial aid director.

And in an economy where the unemployed are seeking new skills and higher education at increasing rates, less federal financial aid could send enrollment on a downward spiral.

The president's budget does call for the maximum level of Pell funding to remain at its current level.  But US House Republican leaders are calling for it to drop by at least $845 per student per year.  So Hawkeye Community College encourages students to contact their US legislators to let them know just how cuts to Pell grants will affect them.  It's those kinds of stories that just might help preserve the funding.

President Obama says cuts to Pell grants are needed because the program is facing a $20 billion shortfall.  That's largely because increased college enrollments have led to more grants being issued.  In fact, just two years ago, there were 3 million fewer Pell grant recipients than there are today.

KWWL Reporter:  Kera Mashek

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