Shortly after the Democrats won back majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in November, party leaders laid out their agenda for the 110th Congress. Near the top of the list was making college more affordable to students who can't pay today's astronomical tuition costs. Specifically, the Democrats say they want to substantially heighten the ceiling on Pell grants, halve federal interest rates on student loans, and decrease federal tax liability for families who are paying tuition.
These are ambitious goals. Many think them unrealistic. After all, the money for these proposals must come from somewhere, and college graduates aren't the only ones up to their ears in debt; the government is, too, with a federal deficit that continues to grow at an alarming pace. As American Association of State Colleges and Universities Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Policy Analysis Edward M. Elmendorf recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "If they want to put more money in education, someone else's ox has got to be gored."
This page has argued many times in the past?most recently with regard to the College's prioritization of financial aid in its capital campaign?that increasing accessibility to higher education is an important goal. Our government must make it a priority to make sure that qualified candidates?no matter their family's economic class?can benefit from the nation's educational resources.
When access is limited to the nation's most privileged, and promising minds of a generation are denied access to a college or university that could unlock their full potential because they can't afford it, that damages America. A country in which 10 percent of families control 70 percent of the nation's wealth (according to estimates by Federal Reserve economist Arthur B. Kennickell) runs a big risk of passing over the reins to a generation of leaders that has been picked from a dangerously shallow pool. This country will be strongest when positions of power?both in office and in the voting booth?are held by those with the best minds, not the fattest wallets.
So if increasing accessibility to higher education by reducing tuition burden on the middle and lower classes means goring someone else's ox, then so be it. Surely, money can be grafted from projects less essential to the future of the country to help heal the wound of education inequality.
For these proposals to become policy, members of Congress will need fortitude, Democrats need to show that they're willing to lead, and we urge Rep. Tom Allen and Rep. Mike Michaud to make the issue of student aid a priority during the next year. Sen. Susan Collins recently recommitted herself to this issue by urging the White House to increase the maximum Pell grant award. We expect Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe to rally their Republican senatorial colleagues behind Pelosi's House proposals for the sake of the national interest, and equally, for the sake of justice.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board. The editorial board is comprised of Bobby Guerette, Beth Kowitt, and Steve Kolowich.