In Ohio, Pell Grants sway younger voters

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 at 11:15 am

By Chris Palmer and Courtney Pence
Pavement Pieces staff

By Chris Palmer
Pavement Pieces staff

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have traversed this critical swing state in recent weeks, college campuses have almost become a second home for the two candidates. Each has visited several Ohio colleges in the past month, hosting rallies and delivering speeches to youthful, enthusiastic audiences.

One campaign issue, in particular, could have an effect on many members of those campus communities: the plans each candidate has for Pell Grants.

The Pell Grant program awards grants of up to $5,500 to millions of students across the country each year. The need-based grants are awarded to low-income students in an effort to help them attend college without incurring an overwhelming amount of loans.

President Obama has been bullish on Pell Grants: over the past four years, he’s nearly doubled  Pell spending – more than $33 billion in Pell Grants were distributed to over nine million students nationwide in the 2011/2012 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education documents – and he has pushed for a future increase in the maximum grant amount, in order to keep pace with inflation.

Governor Romney, however, has taken a variety of stances on the issue during the campaign.

His education white paper, published in May, states that increased federal spending on Pell Grants “has only fed the growth” of rising tuition prices, and that “the Department of Education operates as one of the largest banks in the country, with taxpayers left on the hook.”

The federal budget proposed by his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, was more directly critical of the program: it would repeal more than $100 billion in mandatory Pell Grant funding over the next ten years and cap the maximum award amount at $5,500, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But in September, Romney told an audience of Florida Latino voters that he will “continue a Pell Grant program,” and that he supports increasing award amounts to keep pace with inflation. And in the second presidential debate two weeks ago, he said that he wants “to keep our Pell Grant program growing,” a stance he had not previously expressed.

Whatever changes either candidate proposes or eventually passes could have a major effect in Ohio, where more than 300,000 students received a Pell Grant in 2011/2012.  Many of the state’s colleges rely on Pell Grants to help students fund their education as well, local officials said.

“It’s a definite concern for Columbus State and for other schools across the state,” said Martin Maliwesky, dean of enrollment services at Columbus State Community College, where 47 percent of students receive a Pell Grant. “If the Pell Grant program were to be reduced in any substantial way, it could impact our students’ ability to pay for school and to attend.”

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