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Sun., Jan. 4, 2009

College hopes buried

Few politicians have positively influenced as many lives as Claiborne Pell, a former U.S. senator from Rhode Island who died Thursday at the age of 90. He was the driving force behind Basic Education Opportunity Grants, which were renamed Pell Grants in his honor.

Begun in 1972, this direct subsidy has helped 54 million lower-income students attend college, according to the Washington Post. I was one of them.

But the grants have not kept pace with the cost of college. At their inception, they covered 60 percent of the average college tuition. Now, it’s closer to 33 percent.

It’s just shocking how much students and their parents are expected to pay for higher education these days. For the past 20 years, average tuition in U.S. colleges and universities has increased four times faster than the rate of inflation. And it’s only going to get worse, as states slash higher education funding to close budget deficits and colleges respond by raising prices.

In September, the Bush administration warned Congress that the Pell Grant program could face a $6 billion shortfall in 2009. Massive layoffs around the country have sparked a surge in college applications, but the economic downturn will make it more difficult for Congress to keep pace. The result will probably be cuts in the number and size of awards.

Because of Pell, I was able to attend college without running up exorbitant debt. Sadly, that option is increasingly unavailable today.

Crunch time. Times are tough, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers are above starting candy wars.

State Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, has introduced a bill to make Aplets and Cotlets the official candy of Washington state. Those confections, made from apples and apricots, have been produced in a factory in nearby Cashmere since 1920.

Not so fast, say Tacoma officials, where Almond Roca candies have been made since 1912. A bill was introduced in 2001 to make that crunchy treat the state candy, but it failed.

That’s different, says Armstrong, because Aplets and Cotlets are “made with products from Washington-based agriculture and is part of our identity.”

Well, if that’s the standard, says the editorial page of the Chehalis Chronicle, then the state candy should be Chehalis Mints, which it calls a true statewide product. The mint is grown in Eastern Washington before being shipped to Western Washington. The candy is packed in boxes made from Pacific Northwest pines.

Not bad, but let’s not forget Spokandy. If we must have a state candy, a sampler from them would be sweet.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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