Tweets, E-mails Fly to ‘Save Pell’

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Students are planning to take on the government in their media today, staging a one-day blitz of tweets, emails and other electronic messages to members of Congress and President Barack Obama, demanding that cuts to collegiate Pell Grants be excluded from continuing debt negotiations. It’s part of a continuing campaign to spotlight what the grants have enabled students to accomplish.

Pell Grants, which have become the backbone of college financial aid for low-income students, have grown by millions of recipients during the recession and now help support about 10 million college students.  That large amount of money – about $30 billion in the current budget – makes it a massive target for the debt trimmers.

Under pending proposals, Pell Grant funding would have to be cut about $11 billion, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at a roundtable discussion about for-profit college last week. Under those proposals,  which would lower income regulations for recipients, about 1.5 million students would lose Pell funding altogether and others would have their grants reduced by as much as 45 percent. The current maximum grant is $5,500, though not everyone receives the maximum.

Unlike student loans, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid.  They are named in honor of Sen. Claiborne Pell, who represented Rhode Island in the Senate for six terms and sponsored the legislation that established the grants, then known as Basic Educational Opportunity Grants. Though they once covered as much as three-quarters of college costs, they now generally cover less than a third of the cost of going to college. And nearly two-thirds of  Pell recipients still must take out loans to pay for part of their education.

Although students have been notified of the amount of Pell grant money they are eligible to receive for the upcoming school year, none of that money has been paid out yet.  A spokeswoman for The Education Trust, one of the groups spearheading “Save Pell Day” said the cutbacks probably would begin with the 2012-13 school year, but that is not certain.

During negotiations early this year on the 2011 appropriations package, there were indications that the grants might have to be cut mid-year.

“Save Pell Day” has its own Facebook page, Twitter account and Tumblr blog. Anyone wanting to participate in the campaign can contact one of the social media and receive information about their elected officials and how to contact them. The group’s website (www.savepell.org) has testimonials from graduates and current students who have depended on Pell Grants to further their education.

The Save Pell group is an affiliation of  civil rights, social justice, education and youth groups including The Education Trust, the Young Invincibles,  Campus Progress (Center for American Progress), the Institute for College Access and Success and various Hispanic and African-American social justice groups.