The full impact of this policy is already being felt as colleges see enrollments of Pell Grant-eligible students decline as new regulations are put in place.
What is also becoming obvious is that students aren’t the only ones being hurt by the effort of congressional budget hawks. The economic development of the state is also being put at risk.
As Alabama has worked to attract new industries, one of the things that has been to its advantage is the network of community colleges and trade schools where students can be trained for manufacturing jobs that are in great demands. When companies seeking to relocate ask how Alabama can help them, Calhoun County Economic Development Council executive director Don Hooper is quick to point out that “workforce development is always at the top of the list.”
Cuts in the Pell Grant program and limits on how long a qualified student can remain eligible are taking a toll on the number of students seeking that training. Gadsden State Community College and other two-year schools have noticed a decline in enrollment. Though it is too early to clearly link that to what is happening to Pell Grants, school officials are certain that limiting financial aid is making a difference.
Although there is a possibility that students may get some assistance through the Workforce Investment Act, that federal program will not be able to reach as many people as Pell Grants did.
So, Alabama’s plans for the future are again in jeopardy. After decades of denouncing government spending as wasteful and unnecessary, the state faces the realization that the very cuts we have been demanding may make Alabama less appealing to the industries it is trying to attract.
We find ourselves at a crossroads. One path leads to a declining economic outlook. The other is far more prosperous. It will be telling to see what course of action the governor and the legislative leaders will now propose.