Loebsack defends higher ed against budget cuts

BY BRIAN ALBERT | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Education funding shouldn’t be the target of a national push to cut the federal budget, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said in Johnson County on Thursday.

Loebsack, speaking to a crowd of around 100 at the University Athletics Club, said support for education is crucial to national success.

“If our education system falls behind, it will be hard to get ahead and win the race,” he said. “I’m honored to be part of the legislative body of this country — the most powerful country on the planet — but it won’t stay that way if we can’t improve the quality of our education.”

The congressman said the government’s various financial-aid programs, including Pell Grants and low-interest educational loans, should be protected as a means to provide college access to as many students as possible.

Those programs support many local students, University of Iowa officials said.

Mark Warner, the director of UI Student Financial Aid, said more than 4,300 undergraduates — roughly 20 percent of the UI undergraduate population — received federal funds in the form of Pell Grants. More than $1.7 million was awarded overall.

“[Pell Grants] are a significant source of funding for thousands of college undergraduates,” Warner said. “It’s the largest federal grant program for appropriating money to the neediest students.”

Federal threats to cut pell grants by $6 billion would affect roughly 203,000 Iowa students, according to an April study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Higher-education support has been under fire at the state level as well. The state budget passed by lawmakers on Thursday dealt millions in cuts to Iowa’s public universities.

State Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, said he places high importance on education, urging everyone to seek out higher education of any variety to adequately prepare for the current job market.

“It doesn’t have to be a traditional four-year education,” he said.

But while he said he agreed loans are a popular option, there are other available routes to make education more affordable and approachable.

“People also need to think about work-study options and apprenticeship programs,” Forristall said. “Let’s open our minds to other avenues.”

Loebsack, who previously served as an faculty member at Cornell College, said though money is a necessary condition for an successful education system, it isn’t the only condition.

“You need good parents who are going to help their children,” he said. “You need good teachers and good administrators and good communities. You need students who want to succeed.”

Before concluding his speech, Loebsack said the goal is to expand the middle class. According to the congressman, education — which leads to jobs and development — is how that goal will be met.

And while a huge part of education depends on the government and financial institutions, he stressed the importance of individual responsibility in obtaining a proper education.

“In fourth grade, I decided I didn’t want to live in poverty,” Loebsack said. “I had bad grades up to that point. Then I somehow got a Ph.D., taught at Cornell College, and got to Congress.”

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