by Ron Busby
(NNPA)—It appears that with every proposed budget cut, Congress slices just a bit m-o-r-e from the American Dream of equal opportunity in education. African-American students, as well as other minority groups, will especially feel the deep slash of cuts aimed at the federal Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant has been the means by which so many African-American students have been able to further their education. And—everybody knows—education is the one proven route available for Black students to become leaders in business; to improve their lives and the lives of others.
Now, Congress—charged with looking out for the best interest all Americans—is targeting the very means by which the majority of African-American students are able to access a college education. What was once considered a public good is quickly turning into a costly private investment. Higher education will soon be unattainable by those in low-to-moderate income families, creating a greater divide between the wealthy and the middle and lower class.
In a move that puts them at odds with President Obama, members of the House are proposing a reduction in the yearly maximum budgeted for Pell Grants. They are attempting to bring the current cap of $5,550 down by a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Eligibility requirements would become stricter, as well. It has been suggested that the annual household income limit be reduced from $30,000 to $20,000. Do these Representatives—supposedly attuned to the needs of the American public—really believe that those who are barely getting by on that meager $10,000 more each year are going to be able to fund a child’s education without assistance?
Students will also be required to enroll in 15 credit hours per semester instead of 12. Working students—those who do not have the luxury of focusing 100 percent of their time and attention on their coursework— will have to struggle that much more to complete their education in a limited number of years. This added stress can cause a student’s grades to suffer, which will in turn affect the amount of assistance they receive.
Colleges and universities that have a higher Black student population, such as Howard University, Tuskegee Institute and Texas Southern University, will also see major cuts, nearly 36 percent, in special programs and grants for students.
These cuts, which will have such a huge impact on African-American education, are going to hinder the advancement and growth of businesses owned by African-Americans. Without the benefit of higher education, the strength of leadership within the African-American community is going to wane.
President Obama speaks of our nation being among the best and the brightest, but slashing the funding needed to shape future African-American leadership greatly undermines that claim. We cannot sit idly by and watch as the current leaders of our nation make the wrong choices for our young Black students.
I am a graduate of two Historical Black Colleges and Universities: Florida A&M University and Clark Atlanta University. Yes, we had our challenges at my alma maters, but I would not change my experience. It helped mold me into the man I am today.
As an alumnus of these esteemed institutions, I understand the importance of a solid education. It is the foundation on which a person builds a successful life. For us to sit idly by while our government limits access to educational opportunities available to African-Americans is unconscionable and inexcusable.
African-Americans have struggled throughout the years to gain equality in education at every level. Higher education should not be a privilege that is only available to the wealthy. If we truly believe that education is the key to success in life, the opportunity should be available to every American, regardless of their income level.
(Ron Busby is the president of U.S. Black Chamber, Inc.)