What The House Republican Budget Gets Wrong About College Aid

Since House Republicans took over the majority in 2010, they have had higher education in their sights, proposing bill after bill that would bump up to a million students out of the Pell Grant program (which provides higher education grants to low-income students) and scaremongering about increased financial aid. And the GOP’s 2013 budget, released yesterday, is no exception.

In its budget document, the GOP claims that increased financial aid is a cause of rising college tuition, while implying that Pell Grants currently don’t go to the “truly needy” (a turn of phrase that fits in with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) recent rhetoric). However, as Center for American Progress Associate Director of Postsecondary Education Julie Morgan notes, there is more myth to the GOP’s claims than reality:

[The House GOP budget] claims that federal financial aid is responsible for increasing college tuition and cites a 2007 study conducted by University of Oregon economists showing that increases in Pell Grants are matched by increases in tuition at private nonprofit schools. But this study found no evidence that higher Pell Grants drive tuition increases at public universities, where 75 percent of all college students are enrolled.

The House Republican budget also cites the work of economist Richard Vedder as support for the notion that college prices are driven up by federal student financial aid. Yet Vedder’s own Center for College Affordability and Productivity recently released a paper that reexamines the link between federal aid and tuition, concluding that aid directed at low-income students does not, in fact, increase tuition. Since the Pell Grant is a program for low-income college students, even the research of Rep. Ryan’s favored scholars would not support cutting the program as a way to control tuition. […]


And of course, an obvious flaw in the factual basis for Rep. Ryan’s proposal is that Pell Grants already do focus on the “truly needy.” Seventy-four percent of Pell Grant recipients in 2011 had family incomes of $30,000 or less. And 2012 changes to Pell Grant eligibility further concentrate federal aid on the poorest students. But the House Budget Committee ignores these facts and instead implies that Pell Grants are somehow going to those who are not “truly needy.”

Ryan has suggested that a student questioning the GOP’s proposed Pell Grant cuts simply work three jobs instead, showing exactly how he feels about helping Americans access higher education. But increasing the number of Americans with higher education degrees is key to the country’s economic competitiveness, which the GOP claims to care so much about.