Nebraska higher education leaders urge senators to support Pell Grant funding
Four of Nebraska’s higher education leaders today sent a joint letter to Nebraska Sens. Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns urging them to support continued investment in the Pell Grant program, the federal government’s financial aid program for low-income students.

Supporting Document

Letter to Nebraska Senators

The letter was signed by University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken; Stan Carpenter, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System; Dennis Baack, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association; and Creighton University President John P. Schlegel, who is board chairman of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Nebraska. Collectively, NU and Nebraska’s state, community and independent colleges and universities are home to 97 percent of Nebraska’s college students.

In the letter, the education leaders express concern for the cut to the Pell Grant program that was part of the FY2011 budget bill enacted Feb. 19 by the House. That bill would reduce the maximum Pell award by $845, making the maximum grant $4,705 as of July 1. According to the Student Aid Alliance, a non-partisan coalition of more than 80 organizations focused on higher education, this would eliminate 1.7 million students nationally from the Pell program, and would significantly reduce Pell aid for 7.5 million others.

The Senate will consider a FY2011 budget bill this week.

The letter notes that in 2009-2010, nearly 38,000 students enrolled in Nebraska community colleges, independent colleges and universities, state colleges and the University of Nebraska received Pell Grant support. This represents about one-third of all students enrolled at these institutions.

“The Pell Grant is critical to enable Nebraskans to access a college education to prepare for a career and contribute to our state and communities for years to come,” the letter says, while also noting that there is a growing consensus locally and nationally that educational attainment is a key ingredient to economic competitiveness.

“Cuts in the maximum Pell Grant would reduce access to higher education for many Nebraskans and negatively impact our state’s potential economic prosperity for many years to come,” the letter says.

Milliken said, “Federal Pell Grants are the foundation of financial aid for many students at the University of Nebraska and across the state. At the University of Nebraska, more than one-quarter of undergraduates benefit from Pell support. I join my higher education colleagues in urging the U.S. Senate to continue to invest in this vital program, which makes the dream of college a reality for so many students.”

Carpenter said, “The mission of the Nebraska State College System has always been to provide access to higher education. Pell Grants are a vitally important component in assuring that students can attend college. Reducing the maximum award will prevent some students from enrolling and will substantially increase the debt load for many. This will not serve our citizens or our state well in the long run.”

Schlegel said, “Without federal Pell Grants, many students attending Nebraska independent colleges and universities will be unable to afford college, and it may put their ability to continue their education in jeopardy. I cannot overly stress the importance of a college education and its impact on the individual and the state and national economy.”

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