Penn students seeking financial assistance may have found another resource to help lessen the burden of paying for college.
During last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke of his goals for making higher education affordable and accessible to more students.
In discussing his vision for the future, the president said that “the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.”
Penn “strongly supports” Obama’s vision in “higher education as critical to maintaining America’s economic competitiveness,” Director of Student and Financial Services Bill Schilling wrote in an e-mail.
“We support these measures that would … increase grants to enable lower-income students to attend college, reduce the burden of educational debt and give relief to middle-income taxpayers,” he wrote.
According to a White House fact sheet on the speech, Obama’s plan for higher education centers on a few main points.
First, the president is asking Congress to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit — a measure enacted as part of the 2009 budget stimulus — that now provides $10,000 over four years of college for middle and lower-income families.
Graduate School of Education professor Laura Perna said that while the tax credit is a step in the right direction, it may not have as many practical benefits for Penn as one might think.
“The thing about the tax credit is that it comes after tuition’s been paid, so it’s different from a grant in that regard,” Perna said.
The tax credit is likely to have a greater impact on public universities and community colleges than it will on a private institution like Penn, she added.
Obama also discussed plans to bolster the Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to low-income students.
According to Schilling, the number of Pell Grants awarded to Penn students has almost doubled since 2007, partly due to the effects of the economic recession. He added that Pell Grants have no bearing on whether Penn students receive additional financial aid from the University.
Perna said that the Pell Grant is “the most important thing the federal government can do in this day and age to broaden access and reach to higher education.” She compared some tenets of the Pell program to Penn’s no-loan financial aid policy, which aims to replace loans with grants in an effort to help students graduate free of debt.
However, Perna, who has studied the effectiveness of college financial aid as a means of attracting low-income students, believes “there’s definitely work that can be done.”
“The representation of lower-income families on campus has been a bit less than I think some would like to see,” she said, adding that “a school like Penn has an important role in providing financial leadership for other colleges.”
Penn President Amy Gutmann said that the University will “stand behind legislation that will make college more affordable to students.”
“Any investment in higher education helps support Penn’s commitment to increasing access,” she said. “Our economy will go forward because of innovation, not because of cheap labor.”
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