Small colleges, standalone law schools, and the low-income students that hope to earn a degree there could be in trouble, thanks to a heartless decision by Senate Republicans to do away with a vital and long-standing college loan program.
The Perkins Loan program is the government’s oldest financial aid program, founded in 1958 and has spanned 11 administrations and provided $36 billion in aid to 30 million low-income students during its lifetime. With the program’s expiration, small schools that rely on tuition for funding will be left without a major lifeline. The report was published by credit rating agency Moody’s, and it said that small schools can expect “greater pressure on university financial aid budgets and enrollment volatility.”
It should come as no surprise that Republicans were largely behind the discontinuation of the Perkins Loan program, a move that cuts off loans to a half-million college students in the middle of the academic year. Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander had called the program “outdated and unnecessary” and would not let the Senate vote on an extension, even though a bill to save it had already passed the House. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) called it “a perfect example of why the American people are so upset with Washington.”
Sen. Bob Casey explained:
“The program expired at the end of September because Republicans in the Senate didn’t want it to go forward. Some did. Some didn’t. We have to use efforts now to reauthorize the program. There’s no reason someone should be prevented from going to college because Congress can’t do its job.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney called Congress’ failure to reauthorize the program “a shameful attack on needy students.”
Out of the $150 billion that the government gives to college every year, the Perkins Loan program only accounted for $1.2 billion. The program was particularly helpful to low-income students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend college and get an education. A quarter of families who receive the loans make less than $30,000 annually.
Small, private colleges who don’t have enough students will feel this loss the strongest, as Moody’s report noted: “the impact on enrollment will be most significant for small private liberal arts colleges.”
But students will also feel the brunt of this decision. For example, 41% of full-time students looked to Perkins loans for help at Earlham College, in Richmond, Indiana. At Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a third of students receive Perkins loans. And it’s not just small liberal arts colleges that are affected – law schools will also feel it. The University of California, Hastings College of the Law has a student body that relies heavily (80%!) on those loans. Because the Perkins Loan program has not been renewed, hundreds of thousands of students across the United States will either have to delay their college education, or perhaps not get one at all. The Republican Party’s decision is cruel, unethical and will without a doubt negatively impact the lives and dreams of countless young Americans.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.