Possible Pell Grant Cuts

This week, some members of Congress plan to reduce funding for more federal programs via budget cuts, including the Pell Grant program. According to a recent article published in the Chronicle for Higher Education, House Republicans are in talks to cut spending in up to 31 federal education programs.

Since the 1970s, Pell grants have helped undergraduates from low-income families finance part of their higher education, once even covering up to 70% of tuition costs. Their goal, as envisioned by Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell in 1973, was to provide funding so that all students would have a chance for a decent college education. To receive aid, students would file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually to verify eligibility, and if eligible, they could receive up to a maximum of different amounts, depending on the overall cost of tuition and fees, as well as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) determined by their FAFSA. Students could then either have their grant sent directly to their school or receive the aid directly twice an academic year with half the amount for both semesters. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the maximum Pell grant amount was $5,550.

As one of the few federal student aid options that students would not have to pay back following graduation, the removal or tightening on Pell grants could have a sweeping effect on learners at private, public and online institutions. Without the reliance of federal aid, planning for college may be even more difficult for many American families. Earlier in 2011, a budget proposal promised to slash Pell grants by reducing awards by $1,175 per student. Although it was blocked by the Senate, more proposals for budget cuts are expected to take place in the coming weeks. Additionally, tightening on the conditions of edibility could result in loss of aid for up to 1.7 million eligible students. According to a recent article in Business Week, grants would no longer be available to students attending school less than part-time or students without high school diplomas. Furthermore, the number of semesters where grants would be disbursed would be reduced.

Fortunately for students, some members of Congress are hoping to save the Pell Grant program, especially as tuition costs continue to rise. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has started an online petition to let Congress know that Pell grants are an important part of helping students obtain a quality college education.

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