Community College Lobbies to Protect Pell Grants
By: Laura M. Reckford
Cape Cod Community College President Kathleen Schatzberg and four college trustees journeyed to Washington, DC, last week seeking to protect Pell grants and other federal funding for students and community colleges, as federal legislators sharpen their knives for what are projected to be hefty budget cuts.
The trustees who accompanied Dr. Schatzberg were Susan Fernald of Hyannis, who is president of the alumni association; Ralph Cahoon of Barnstable, a police officer and former chairman of the Barnstable School Committee; Sheila Vanderhoef of Cummaquid, who is the town manager in Eastham; and William Zammer of Mashpee, who owns several restaurants and funded the new hospitality program at the college.
Their message to legislators was that community colleges like Cape Cod Community College can be part of the solution to the troubled economy.
“We educate and train people and get them back in the workforce,” Dr. Schatzberg said. Once educated or retrained, people are better able to get jobs and pay taxes, as opposed to depending on government assistance. “Otherwise they can become a drain on society,” she said.
“Community colleges are really the key to turning our economy around,” she said.
Pell grants are need-based grants for students that help them attend college.
Students can get up to $5,550 per year from the grants, and at Cape Cod Community College, about 57 percent of the 6,000-member student body makes use of the grants, adding up to just over $5 million for the college, Dr. Schatzberg said.
The college has a $23 million annual budget, Dr. Schatzberg said.
Of that about 40 percent of the budget comes from state appropriations and 57 percent is covered by student tuition and fees.
The special lobbying trip, part of a nationwide lobbying effort by the Association of Community College Trustees, was a first for the college president and trustees, Dr. Schatzberg said.
She said the national debate on budget cuts to bring down the federal deficit played a large role in the trustees’ decision to speak directly to legislators.
About 600 to 700 community college presidents and trustees from all across the country were in Washington for the session.
Protecting federal support of community colleges has gained urgency in recent weeks as legislators are scrutinizing the budget.
On the block is what is termed “discretionary spending.”
Dr. Schatzberg said the importance in protecting the Pell grants from cuts stems from the fact that the amount of money going into the grant program has doubled over the last three years, making more people who are in the lower middle class eligible. “That’s what makes it a sitting duck for cuts,”
Dr. Schatzberg said.Federal legislators have not yet approved the Fiscal Year 2011 budget and Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed cutting the maximum amount given in a Pell grant by 15 percent for the remaining months of the fiscal year, Dr. Schatzberg said.
As for the next fiscal year, that process just began last week when President Barack Obama delivered his version of the budget.
That version leaves the maximum Pell grant in place at $5,550 but cuts the use of the grant for summer classes, Dr. Schatzberg explained.
Besides Pell grants, the other grant programs that community college advocates are watching closely are Perkins grants, which provide funding for programs between vocational schools and community colleges; and the TRIO program, which provides assistance to students who are at-risk for dropping out, like first-generation college students or disabled students.
During the trip, the Cape Cod Community College contingent met with Congressman William Keating (D-Cape & Islands District), Senator Scott Brown, and staff from Senator John Kerry’s office.
Sen. Kerry could not be there because he had to leave the country on an emergency trip to Pakistan for President Obama, Dr. Schatzberg said.
They also met with Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the important Education and Labor Committee, the group who will see any legislation having to do with higher education, Dr. Schatzberg said.
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