Pell grant changes may come into effect by 2012

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is seen at the National Press Club in Washignton in this April 27, 2006 file photo. When Obama heads to Africa for a five-nation tour this week, he will take with him one credential no other U.S. senator can claim – and which, he says, may make Africans listen to what he has to say. Obama is a son of the continent. His late father was a goat herder who went on to become a Harvard-educated government economist for his native Kenya. That connection, he hopes, will give a special resonance to his words. “One of the messages I’m going to send is that, ultimately, Africa is responsible for helping itself,” Obama said in an interview Wednesday Aug. 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Mannie Garcia, File)

In the United States, more than 9 million students rely on Pell Grants to help fund part or all of their college education expenses. A new budget submitted by President Obama for the fiscal year 2012 proposes to keep the maximum annual Pell Grant award at $5,550.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a spending proposal that included lowering the maximum annual Pell Grant award to $4,705.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of eligible students applying for Pell Grants. For the proposed 2012 fiscal budget, several changes may be made to the availability of funds as well as the maximum amount received. These changes could pose problems to students who rely on the federal grants.

“I think that education is the last place to be making cuts and tightening the belt,” said UNA senior Melissa Thorne. “It is hard enough to qualify for a Pell Grant anyway because they include your parents’ income even if your parents do not support you.”

The first proposed change will end the year-round Pell Grant policy that allows recipients to receive two grants per calendar year. This allows students to receive an additional grant for summer courses with funds above their originally awarded amount if the student meets additional eligibility requirements.

This was only first available for the summer of 2010 and the amount of grants awarded exceeded budget expectations. Eliminating these grants will save $8 billion during the next year and nearly $60 billion over the course of the next decade.

“Because the two Pells in a year have not been around for 10 years, students have not had the additional Pell funding to rely upon for their tuition,” said Ben J. Baker, director of Student Financial Services.

The Obama administration has proposed in the fiscal year 2012 budget to keep the maximum annual Pell Grant award at $5,550. However, the House of Representatives has already passed legislation proposing a change to Pell Grant funding to reduce the maximum annual award by $845 down to $4,705.

“Here at UNA, almost 33 percent of our students are awarded some portion of the maximum Pell Grant award,” said Baker. “If the maximum annual award is reduced from $5,550 to $4,705, the eligible students would then be required to pay more expenses out-of-pocket to make up for that shortfall. As tuition has increased the cost of education in recent years, this change would pose a financial hardship for students receiving Pell Grants.”

The changes to Pell Grants could cause issues for students trying to avoid going into debt while paying for their education.

“Many students rely on Pell Grants to help pay for their tuition, which is definitely better than having to take out loans,” said UNA senior Anna Brasher. “How are we supposed to go to school if there is less money available for us?”

The 2012 fiscal budget proposed by the Obama administration would go into effect in early October. Until then, these proposed changes will be continue to be debated in Congress.