President Henberg: Investment in higher education essential
2011. 04. 13.
The follow column written by College of Idaho President Marvin Henberg was published in the Idaho Press-Tribune on April 13, 2011.
We live in an innovation economy. Throughout Idaho's history, we have learned that adaptation is necessary if we are to thrive. From Boise's emergence as a center for the semiconductor industry to the state's development of renewable energy resources to our emerging agri-tourism movement, we Idahoans know that our success rests on a combination of our wits, vision and hard work.
Unfortunately, federal financial assistance to low-income families is increasingly under threat, and with it our future ability to adapt and innovate. While lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are expected to vote on a compromise fiscal year 2011 budget bill this week that would keep the current maximum Pell Grant – a grant to low-income college students that does not require repayment – at $5,550 annually rather than slashing it to $1,400, the bill would cut $500 million from the program.
And the threat is not over. In the coming years, we almost certainly will continue to see proposals to cut federal support for low-income students who dream of a better life.
This academic year, more than 42,000 students at Idaho's colleges and universities are gaining the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in our increasingly competitive global economy thanks in large part to federal financial aid. Without the approximately $164 million dollars these students receive through the Pell Grant and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant programs, our economy will lack the future talent it so obviously requires.
If draconian cuts in federal financial aid occur, our nation's poorest students will drop out of college in massive numbers. Likewise, the unemployment lines will be flooded by formerly displaced workers who are currently in school to gain new skills. And, of even greater long-term consequence, fewer Americans will earn their way out of poverty. We all benefit from having educated, innovative citizens who can create more jobs and generate more wealth to reinvest in the communities in which they live.
This financial assistance is especially crucial in Idaho, where only 25 percent of our high school graduates earn a college degree, one of the lowest rates in the nation. During the current economic downtown we have seen how much of an impact education makes on one's ability to successfully navigate challenging times, as the unemployment rate of college graduates is half that of individuals with only a high school diploma.
Idaho's college and universities recognize the importance of investing in the future, and collectively we provide tens of millions of dollars in need-based financial aid. Thanks to the generosity of numerous donors at The College of Idaho, for example, we provide financial assistance to 99 percent of first-year students, and three-quarters of our first-year students receive at least $13,000 in need-based awards.
I ask Idaho's Congressional representatives to join the state's colleges and universities in investing in our shared future by making a commitment to support federal financial aid programs.
Investing in higher education financial assistance is the right thing to do. For our nation's neediest citizens, for ourselves and for the next generation.
President, The College of Idaho