Pell Grants should be saved

It is increasingly clear that one of the possible casualties of the nation's rancorous debt-ceiling debate is the Pell Grant program. The grants, which have helped millions of low-income and moderate-income students attend college over the last few decades, would be reduced significantly if the most strident of Republican budget-cutters have their way. Their victory would be a disservice to many bright young Americans, and a blow to the long-term economic health of the United States.

The cost of Pell Grants has nearly doubled in the last three years. The program was utilized by about 6 million undergraduate college students in 2008-2009 at a cost of about $18 billion. About 9.4 million students will use grants totaling about $35 billion in the 2011-2012 academic year. The latter amount is an attractive target for the number-crunchers, but the measure of the program's value is not in the cost, but in the return individuals and the nation earn on investment.

That,