Decrease in Pell Grant funding could affect U

Changes to Pell Grant eligibility may leave more than 80,000 students across the country reaching deep into their wallets to pay for schooling next year.

The U.S. Department of Education changed its formula for calculating eligibility for Pell Grants.

Based on information from a report by the Congressional Research Service, a research arm of Congress, Pell Grant funding could fall by $270 million for the 2004-2005 award year.

Such a cutback in the federal-funding system could affect as much as $5 billion from the $90 billion federal financial aid pool.

According to the Utah System of Higher Education 2003-2004 Databook, that could impact the approximately 5,000 students who received Pell Grants from the U last year.

However, the changes will likely only affect a handful of those students, according to Paul Brinkman, associate vice president of budget and planning.

John Curl, associate vice president of financial aid, said that of the 5,842 students who received Pell Grant money last year, only a few-if any-will be greatly impacted by the change.

“It’s a possibility that some might lose money, but I’m not sure it’s a significant worry for them,” he said.

Students who qualify for Pell Grant eligibility are ranked on a sliding scale, with zero being the most in need and 3,850 being the least.

It’s the students at the low end of the index who would be in danger of losing federal aid, Curl said.

“It’s not going to impact the students at the high end of the scale. It’s going to impact those on the lower level,” he said.

Pell Grant aid ranges from $400 to $4,000, depending on need.

Pell Grants are federal grants for college that students don’t have to pay back.

During the last decade at the U, the amount of Pell Grant money received by students has fluctuated, but is currently near its 1992 figure, Brinkman said.

In 1992, approximately $10 million was doled out to U students. That number dipped to $6.6 million by 1998, and last year rose to $13.4 million.

Unlike other forms of federal aid programs, Pell Grant money is available for students attending any form of school.

From a four-year research institution to a seasonal trade school, all are eligible to receive Pell Grant money.

“Everybody wants a piece of the action, and if Congress intervenes in any of the variables affecting funding, things change,” Brinkman said. If the tax table does change for students next year, it would be the first such fluctuation since the 1994-1995 award year.

More important, if a funding drop does occur in the Pell Grant pool, it may be felt by students in line to receive monies from other federal aid packages.

According to the Department of Education report, although the exact number of students who may not receive any aid at all is around 84,000, millions of other students who receive money will have less of it.

“One of the key questions is how the need analysis system should take…tax-based resources into account in determining what families can be expected to contribute toward college expenses,” the report states.

Though the eligibility formula has changed, Curl said it’s not something out of the ordinary.

“That’s something the [Department of Education] is supposed to do,” he said.

The formula changes so grant figures can be adjusted to more accurately represent state tax levels, Curl said. Though the ultimate implications of how many students could be affected by the federal department’s restructured formula is up in the air, the U Department of Financial Aid is ready to answer any questions students may have regarding their aid status and the amount of money they could receive.

The Department of Financial Aid is located in Room 105 of the Student Services Building and can be reached by calling 581-6211 or logging onto its Web site at www.sa.utah.edu/finance.

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