Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vouchers, Pell Grants and Universities

The Pell Grant program was instituted by the federal government in 1972. It provides tuition assistance to low income families whose kids want to go to college. If families meet certain income criteria, the federal government gives the university or college a specified amount of money, depending on where that child chooses to go. In effect, the Pell Grant program is like a voucher program in every way, except that it’s used not for K-12 schools, but for post secondary schools.

In the academic year of 2000-2001, over 3,880,000 students from low to moderate income families received used a Pell Grant to go to college. This number reflects almost one quarter of all undergraduates in this country. Together, these families receive almost 8 billion dollars in aid. The average income of families receiving Pell Grant subsidies is only $14,000/year (compared to an average of 52000/year for all other undergraduate families). It’s absolutely clear that without the Pell Grant, these students would not be able to go to college. (American Council on Education: Center for Policy Analysis, 2000)

Every university in the country—both state universities and religious institutions—Evangelical Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic—allow their students offset tuition costs by receiving money through the Pell Grant Program.

The Pell Grant program is among the most universally praised federal programs. It has passed constitutional tests from those who claim that federal money is being used to subsidize private or religious institutions. Despite the dire predictions of anti-voucher forces that vouchers will compromise the independence of schools, burying them in regulations, evidence from the Pell Grant program instituted 30 years ago is that colleges have not been strangled of their independence, nor has their mission been compromised. Indeed, because our colleges can now afford to accept students of lower incomes, the racial and economic diversity of campus life has been enhanced. Millions of past recipients, because of the Pell grants, have been enabled to live as productive and educated citizens.

If Pell grants are good for universities, vouchers can be good for K-12 schools.

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