As the price of college tuition increases dramatically, it is more and more difficult for the average student to afford a college education. Millions of students each year begin their college life with the assistance of financial aid. Only through this aid are the majority able to attend and benefit from higher education. Unfortunately, under the Republican-dominated Congress, thousands upon thousands of students who are desirous of and qualified for higher education will be denied this right. It is ironic that, under George W. Bush’s administration, that educational opportunity will see so many students “left behind.” This is due largely to the fact that there has been the smallest increase in student aid funding in years while college tuition costs continue to skyrocket.

Of the students who are fortunate enough to attend college, a large number are forced to work long hours, not just after graduation to pay back the huge loans and accumulated interest, but while they are in college, to pay for what the inadequate college grants and loans don’t cover. On top of the burden of full-time classes, reading, study, papers and exams, many college students are also weighed down with having to work 25 hours and more to stay in college.

In 1994, Congress considered cutting educational programs by almost $30 billion over a period of seven years. These programs included student loan subsidies and campus-based programs like federal work-study.

State public interest research groups (PIRGs), working with more than 50 other organizations, spoke out through the media, campus meetings and rallies to educate the people and the politicians on the importance and necessity of investing in education. Fortunately for us, as a result of this collaborative campaign, Congress rejected most of the proposed cuts, and instead increased federal funds to help students afford higher education. Student aid funding was increased by $1.7 billion, Pell grants were increased, and funding was increased for Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Leveraging Educational Assets Program (LEAP), Perkins loans and College Work-Study. Also student loan interest rates were lowered, and the 60-month payment restriction was eliminated, allowing borrowers to receive tax relief beyond the first five years. These victories made a large difference in the lives of college students.

Now, as a result of program cuts and underfunding of student aid, we are once again in a sad state with regard to access to higher education. It seems that we have taken several steps back. Now is the time to step forward.

Federal student aid funding should be increased so that the maximum Pell Grant can be awarded to each and every deserving and financially needy college applicant. There must be increases for other key student aid programs to help ensure that thousands of students get their opportunity to receive a quality college education.

What can you do? Whether you are a college student, the parent of a present, past or future college student, or just a concerned citizen, your help is needed. Write your senators and your congressmen to support these increases in student financial aid. Put students before profits.

As a wise man named Epictetus once stated so eloquently, “Only the educated are free.”

James M. Bradford ( works for a nonprofit agency in Philadelphia providing services to inner city youth.