In an attempt to exert greater influence over higher education in the United States, the Obama administration has announced a plan to penalize states that do not sufficiently fund public colleges and Universities with federal aid cuts. The program, known as the College Access Challenge Grant, is ineffective because its minor penalties are not strong enough to incentivize states to provide increased education funding. It unnecessarily depletes higher education budgets.

The College Access Challenge was passed by Congress in 2008, and threatens federal aid cuts to states that provide appropriations to their public colleges that are less than the average amount the state gave over the previous five years. But with the economic downturn, states nationwide have been forced to cut their budgets across the board. The federal government has allowed states to avoid this federal aid penalty if they can prove that they have not depleted higher education funding disproportionately. Of the 22 states that significantly cut higher education funding, most states have been able to prove that they have not overly cut college education and have then still received federal aid. However, Michigan and Alabama have failed to receive such waivers. Michigan cut support for public schools by 6.35 percent in 2010 while revenues fell only 5.5 percent.

Michigan is now slated to lose $4.2 million in federal aid. In order to prevent such penalties, Michigan would have to reinvest $58 million in higher education. Alabama is scheduled to lose $2.1 million in aid, and they would have to restore $36.9 million in state education funding. These minor cuts in federal aid for college education are not strong enough incentives for states to increase their higher education appropriations. It’s unrealistic to expect state legislatures to drastically alter their education budgets for the minor incentive of avoiding federal aid penalties. The College Access Challenge Grant program unnecessarily cuts college education funding and is going to continue the unsustainable trend of rising tuition costs for Michigan students, including those here at the University.

Despite the ineffectiveness of the College Access Challenge program, responsibility for higher education cuts ultimately lies with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republicans in Lansing. While it’s commendable that Snyder will replace $2 million of the funding lost with state money, that amount still isn’t enough. If the conservative model of individual responsibility is going to be fair and effective in the coming decades, state governments must assume the responsibility of giving their people the tools to be self-reliant. To leave the poor without a proper education or public assistance is unjust. Snyder and Republicans across the country should, therefore, rethink the role of government in public education.

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