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CSCU President Ojakian: Trump budget would have ‘devastating impact on our students’

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In a letter to key Congressional committee members, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian is sounding the alarm over a provision in the Trump administration’s budget that would eliminate the annual inflation adjustment for Pell Grant awards.

Federal Pell Grants are limited to students with financial need. “Our students who receive the maximum Pell Grant award disproportionately come from working families, and are often juggling work, raising a family, and dealing with life’s other challenges, all while pursuing an education,” Ojakian wrote. “Their cost of living increases with inflation and they depend on their Pell Grant to do the same, just to make ends meet.”

The cut would prevent eligible students from receiving an estimated $165 increase in their 2018-19 award – a loss that could add up to $6 million annually for CSCU students, Ojakian said.

“This is particularly disturbing for our community colleges, where 34 percent of the student body (25,065 students) received a Federal Pell Grant in 2015-16,” Ojakian said.

The head of the CSCU, which oversees 12 community colleges, four regional universities and an on-line degree program, said that the Trump administration’s proposal cuts $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant Program reserves while the Appropriation Subcommittee on Labor, Health, & Human Services’ budget cuts $3.3 billion.

“When paired with the $1.56 million cut in the FY 2017 spending package passed in May 2017, the Pell Grant program becomes positioned for a significant funding shortfall in the coming years,” Ojakian said.

He further noted that under the administration’s proposed budget, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program stands to be fully eliminated, while the Federal Work-Study Program would be cut by 49.5 percent to a funding level of $500 million.

Additionally, Ojakian said, the Federal Perkins Loan Program would expire on Sept. 30, “inhibiting the ability of our institutions to award new loans under this program. Cumulatively, these proposals equate to an estimated $7.1 million annual cut in direct financial assistance to our students.”

The administration’s budget would also eliminate the interest subsidy paid by the federal government while a student is in school and during the six-month grace period following separation from an institution. “This will have a devastating impact on our students,” Ojakian said, “leading to increased long-term debt for those receiving federally subsidized loans. We estimate this additional cost to our students to be $22 million.”

The letter was addressed to U.S. Reps. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey) and Nita Lowey (D-New York), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Committee; and U.S. Reps. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Ojakian copied the letter to the rest of the Connecticut Congressional delegation and to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

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