2 Longstanding Programs That Still Help College Students

For 40 years, the Pell grant and Title IX programs have helped students to access and afford college.

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It's June 27, we are in the final homestretch of the student loan interest rate debate, and Congress seems well on their way to a deal that would keep the interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent for another year, leaving a long-term solution for another day.

[Get up to date on student loan changes.]

At the Student Loan Ranger, we're glad to see any movement in Congress to help keep college costs down, so we'd be remiss in not also applauding the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for approving a fiscal year 2013 education budget that goes a long way in solving next year's Pell grant funding crisis.

While funding likely won't be finalized until after the November elections, regular readers know the importance we place on shoring up Pell grants. And since June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of the Pell grant, we can't think of a more perfect moment to remind everyone why. 

Educational Opportunity grants were created in 1972, and were later renamed Pell grants after their chief sponsor, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Since then, more than 60 million students from poor and working class backgrounds have received support from Pell grants.

Sen. Pell firmly believed that "the strength of the United States is not the gold at Fort Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people," and often said "any student with the talent, desire, and drive should be able to pursue higher education."

This purpose of ensuring access to higher education is sometimes lost in the clamor of current events, but President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commemorated the anniversary by celebrating the program's impact and reaffirming the administration's commitment to Pell grants and other efforts to ensure access to and affordability of postsecondary education for everyone. 

And while some partisan statements have been made in the past about Pell grants, as Sec. Duncan pointed out, chances are you know someone who wouldn't have gone to college without the help of a Pell grant. Over the last 40 years, the grants have given millions of students the economic lifeline they need to earn a college degree, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (prospective GOP vice presidential nominee) and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. 

Looking to our future leaders, in the last year alone, the grants helped nearly 10 million students—a much greater impact on accessing education than maintaining the interest rates would have. And as current funding and financial aid policies increasingly fail low income students, you can see why so many are so dedicated to saving and shoring up the Pell grant.

While Pell has survived so far, it has not been without some major changes to availability and eligibility, and has often come at the cost of other student financial assistance programs. So we're glad to have the administration's commitment to ensuring access and affordability.

Speaking of access to education, we also would be remiss to not mention another anniversary. This past weekend also marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX (a lot was going on in 1972), which requires equal access to academic and athletic opportunities for all students, regardless of gender, in all of the education programs and activities of a school, university, or other entity receiving federal financial assistance.

While Title IX does not even mention sports, it is perhaps for access to athletics that it is most famous. But Title IX has opened the door for so much more. Sec. Duncan eloquently commemorated these remarkable achievements, and the Obama administration has committed to build upon Title IX's success and take concrete steps to continue to ensure access and opportunity for women across the country.

So, while the student loan interest rate debate rages on, by the end of the week we hopefully will have a temporary reprieve (until next year). But nothing occurs in a bubble, so we hope you enjoyed our review of programs like Pell grants and Title IX and the tremendous ways in which they help all of us access and afford higher education.

To learn more about student debt and your options for relief, download our free educational debt manual and register for one of our free student debt webinars. This Thursday, June 28 at 3 p.m. ET, we'll be hosting "Drowning in Debt? Learn How Government and Nonprofit Workers Can Earn Public Service Loan Forgiveness." Also on June 28, a rally called "1 Million Americans for Student Loan Forgiveness" will start at noon at the U.S. Capitol. And for more on student loan happenings and tips to help you manage your debt, follow us on Facebook and Twitter (#studentdebthelp).

Radhika Singh Miller is a program manager for Educational Debt Relief and Outreach at Equal Justice Works. She has served on student loan committees in the Department of Education's negotiated rulemaking focusing on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) and other debt relief initiatives. Radhika graduated from Loyola Law School Los Angeles. Prior to joining Equal Justice Works, she was a staff attorney at the Partnership for Civil Justice, focusing on constitutional and civil rights litigation and advocacy.