Warner, in Roanoke, pushes early Pell Grants for high school students

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 pm
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Updated: 5:46 pm, Fri Mar 28, 2014.

Warner, in Roanoke, pushes early Pell Grants for high school students

Speaking today at the Virginia Education Association convention in Roanoke, Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said he is considering legislation in Washington to tackle high school reform and student debt.


The senator spoke in the late afternoon at the Roanoke Civic Center, to a mostly packed auditorium, laying out his educational concerns.

“The key to your success is to make sure that everybody’s got a good education,” Warner said. “I’m desperately afraid we’re going to leave this next generation without the chance at a fair shot.”

During his 15-minute speech, Warner said he is seeking to test the cost-efficiency of early Pell Grant use by high school students, making funds available to students who want to start taking college classes early and meet the current financial and academic thresholds of the program.

The idea behind the possible expansion is that if more students complete college courses before graduation, they will be more likely to enroll in and complete college.

The move is also spurred by college tuition costs that, for some, remain a roadblock to college or a path to years of burdensome student loan debt.

Nearly two-thirds of students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees borrow money to attend college and then leave with an average of $23,300 in debt, according to a recent report by The New York Times. Ten percent of those students will owe more than $54,000. Added together, there is more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt due to student loans in the United States.

Meg Gruber, the president of the VEA, said she supports the idea behind the Pell Grant expansion to high school students, noting it as a potentially positive for the commonwealth.

“We’re no longer a manufacturing and agriculturally based majority,” Gruber said. “We have to do something to help our kids who are out of college, so they don’t come out too burdened with debt.”

She said the debt issue impacts many future teachers, who sometimes struggle finding time to adequately prepare their curriculums while working second and third jobs to maintain their financial situations.

Warner echoed Gruber’s comment.

“How many young people can’t go into teaching because of debt?” he asked.

The senator is also considering a plan to curb the number of high school dropouts — nearly 1.2 million each school year — that would send more money and resources to programs focused on training and education for high-skilled, high-demand occupations. Those opportunities would be encouraged through federal policy that pushes high schools offering career technical education to adopt dual enrollment programs in partnerships with community colleges.

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Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 pm.

Updated: 5:46 pm.


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