Obama Wants To Slash Pell Grants

President Obama is proposing to cut billions of dollars from the Pell Grant program, making it harder for kids from poor families to attend college.

President Obama is proposing to cut billions of dollars from the Pell Grant program, making it harder for kids from poor families to attend college.

President Barack Obama’s budget plan would cut $100 billion from Pell Grants and other higher education programs over a decade through belt-tightening and use the savings to keep the maximum college financial aid award at $5,550, an administration official said.

Nearly $90 billion of the projected savings would be achieved through two changes, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Monday’s release of Obama’s 2012 budget. The spending plan applies to the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Congress would have to approve both changes.

The first proposal would end the “year-round Pell” policy that let students collect two grants in a calendar year, with the second grant used for summer school. The official said the costs exceeded expectations and there was little evidence that students earn their degrees any faster. The change would save $8 billion next year and $60 billion over a decade, the official said.

A second proposal would reduce loan subsidies for graduate and professional students. That would free $2 billion next year and save $29 billion over 10 years, according to the official.

I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the process to have any firm opinion on this. Offhand, the proposals sound reasonable enough: Target student aid to those students in greatest need and eliminate programs that aren’t achieving intended goals, especially if they’re very expensive.

But this is one of those rare times when the hack charge is true: Imagine the reaction if a Republican administration were proposing this. It would, naturally, be seen as proof that Republicans hate the poor and don’t value education.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. wr says:

    I believe several prominent Republicans have already proposed wiping out ALL Pell grants…

  2. Ben says:

    It looks like the only things getting cut here are pell grants specifically for summer school, and load subsidies for kids in grad, med and law school. Pell grants for the normal school year appear unaffected and the loans aren’t going away, they’ll just be unsubsidized, which is not all that huge of a deal.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Of course first we’d have to imagine Republicans making a reasonable proposal. Only then could we get onto imaging the reaction.

  4. Franklin says:

    This may be why Democratic Presidents tend to be more fiscally responsible in recent history: they can get away with it!

  5. D.C. Russell says:

    My senator, pork queen SenatorBarb, sent out a Tweet yesterday blasting the GOP for wanting to cut Pell grants. Wonder if she’ll say anything now.

    That’s Barbara Mikulski, who recently bragged about being the longest serving woman senator ever–and who has never held a committee chairmanship or leadership position

  6. john personna says:

    This violates the “10 year” rule.

    Remember, if they have to total costs (or savings) over 10 years to make you notice, then they don’t really matter.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Agree that these are largely cosmetic cuts, at least in terms of the overall budget and the massive deficits and debt.

  8. Franklin says:

    90 billion for both proposals over 10 years is still 9 billion per year, unless I’ve failed at math again. $30 for every man, woman, and child, every year. Seems significant to me.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Franklin: Sure, but that’s only because you live in the real world. In Washington budget fantasyland, that kind of money amounts to a rounding error.

  10. Tano says:

    First you charge:
    “…making it harder for kids from poor families to attend college”

    Then you explain:
    “Offhand, the proposals sound reasonable enough: Target student aid to those students in greatest need ”


  11. James Joyner says:


    All Pell Grants are financial needs based. These cuts seem to be aimed at summer school, on the theory that it doesn’t expedite degree completion and grad school, on the theory that we want to help undergrads more with limited funds.

    So, these cuts make it harder for poor kids to attend summer school and grad school so that they can target the money to most efficiently help poor kids.

  12. Tom says:

    The logicality of this proposal is absolutely idiotic. We would have money if we didn’t spend it all on some stupid war, new roads, helping out other countries (while its kind, if you have no money and issues in your own country, then stay in your own country), Borrowing money from foreign countries (seems 20% of our overall debt is owned to China) then maybe just maybe we would have money.

    I know that this is only cutting summer programs and grad school and refocusing it back at undergraduates, but if the government would stop wasting money on useless things, and try to actually be a trustworthy government and not half corrupted…we wouldn’t have to “cut” things.

    Also why would it matter, we’ll save 90 billion over the next ten years, then spend it all again in ten seconds. It seems history never really lies. No one knows what “saving” means…just spending.