Bush's Pell Grant retreat

A Times Editorial
Published December 24, 2004

In his final debate with U.S. Sen. John Kerry, President Bush took offense when challenged about his commitment to college students from poor and working families. He looked toward the camera and assured viewers he would "continue to expand Pell Grants to make sure that people have an opportunity to start their career with a college diploma."

Little more than a month after his re-election, expand is about to become contract.

The spending bill the White House helped broker through Congress last month takes double aim at Pell Grants. First, the maximum grant will remain at $4,050 a year, unchanged for the third consecutive year at a time when tuitions are rising by more than 10 percent. (In his 2000 campaign for president, Bush pledged a first-year Pell Grant of $5,100.) Second, and more telling, the bill allows the U.S. Department of Education to proceed with a new eligibility formula that will remove an estimated 90,000 qualified students. The formula was first proposed by the DOE in 2003 but quietly dropped during the election year as Congress banned its implementation.

Seldom has a president so promptly broken such a high-profile pledge.

In an economy that all but requires a college degree for success, lack of financial means can have a devastating effect on a student's opportunities in life. Bush made that very point in the debate, noting that "education is how to make sure we've got a work force that's productive and competitive." On what new theory does he now justify making those education options less available to the poor and middle class?