While Washington already has stepped in for big banks and is considering help for Detroit automakers, higher education officials say college students also are in need of a bailout.
As tuition and other college costs increase, major higher education associations are calling for Congress to offer financial relief for students in the economic stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
University of Tennessee system faculty and staff also are calling for federal funds to offset millions in cuts to higher education.
“We have seen the federal government give bailouts to the financial services industry, to AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and many others,” said Tom Anderson, president of the UT faculty and staff union. “Something has to be done for state budgets facing major shortfalls and, during an economic recession, higher education has to be a top funding priority.”
The Berkeley, Calif.-based Project on Student Debt, along with 12 other associations nationwide, called last week for the maximum Pell Grant to be increased from $4,000 to $7,000 for undergraduates and for work-study funding to be increased by 25 percent.
The group also asked for improved access to the Parent PLUS loans, which allow parents to apply for student loans for their children.
“With economists predicting the longest recession since World War II, investing in our long-term competitiveness with short-term spending on student aid is a responsible way to protect and create American jobs,” read a letter to Congress from the Project on Student Debt.
Another coalition of 30 higher education associations, including the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., sent a similar request to Congress on Monday. The letter asked for the maximum Pell Grant award to be increased by $700 and for federal funding of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, which schools give to undergraduates with exceptional financial need, to be doubled.
Shela Van Ness, professor of sociology at UTC and vice president of the United Campus Workers-Communication Workers of America, said UT faculty and staff want higher education to be included in the economic stimulus package since state funding is slipping.
The union is concerned about job losses at institutions, frozen student funding, larger classes and program cancellations, she said.
“Higher education in Tennessee is threatened,” said Dr. Van Ness. “This is critical in the future. Higher education is the engine for economic development.”
Dianne Cox, director of financial aid at Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga., said there is a growing demand for financial aid and work-study jobs as more people return to college. Dalton State offers about 50 work-study jobs, which start at minimum wage, she said.
“We see a lot of people who get laid off from jobs and come here to apply for financial aid, and they are disappointed by the amount of aid they can get,” said Ms. Cox. “There are a lot of students who want (work-study) jobs, but we just don’t have the money to do it.”
Higher education institutions in the United States have more than 18 million students enrolled, and that number is expected to increase as the economy worsens, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
“Students and families are hurting and facing new barriers in access to higher education that come at a time when the knowledge economy demands an ever more highly skilled work force,” Dr. Broad said. “At the same time, the economic downturn threatens our institutions just when they are needed most.”
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...