Pell Grant changes may affect as many as 6,000 U students

Congress recently passed a bill that will decrease the average Pell Grant value for students, pending a signature from President Bush.

The measure could affect the U’s 6,000 students who currently rely on Pell Grants to help pay for their schooling.

U sophomore Shannon Evans is a single mom and said she depends on a large amount of aid from the federal government.

“That’d be really bad. I’m a widow and I have two kids I have to take care of,” she said. “I have to pay $600 to day care and I don’t get help with that from my job because I don’t work enough hours. If I get less money, I have to take less classes because I can’t afford the day care, or I’ll just have to not finish.”

The breakdown on U

There is good news, however, for students like Evans.

The cuts will likely not affect students currently receiving the maximum $4,050 grant. Those who currently receive the minimum $400 Pell Grant will be the most likely to receive no Pell money.

“When you hear millions of students are not going to be receiving Pell Grants, you think, ‘Boy, that’s a big number,’ said John Curl, associate vice president for financial aid at the U. “But it’s really these students with the smaller Pell Grants that are going to be impacted. It’s not ones relying solely on the Pell Grant.”

The cuts in federal Pell Grants will come as a result of a congressional decision to update the U.S. Department of Education’s tax tables, which are used to determine the need for financial aid. The tables used in the past were 17 years old.

In addition, Congress froze the value of maximum Pell Grants for the third consecutive year at $4,050.

“Even before it was $4,050, it was $4,025, so it was a moderate jump then,” Curl said. “Years back, we had a sizeable jump, but since then, we’ve just had a couple small ones and then it’s stayed the same.”

Some believe the move will reduce a $4 billion deficit caused by past shortfalls in Pell Grant allotments by as much as $300 million.

An effect on millions

However, about 5.4 million students in the United States who currently receive Pell Grants may feel the impact.

“It would definitely be harder for me,” said U junior Lacey Ford. “I depend on that extra money to pay for books and things.”

A decrease in Pell Grants could ultimately lead to debt in Ford’s case, she said.

She has relied on a Stafford Loan in addition to her grant and is struggling to repay that. As an elementary education major, she foresees a stressful future if forced to increase her dependency on student loans.

Pell Grants are a form of financial aid that, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. They are awarded based on a student’s demonstrated financial need.

In the 2003-2004 school year, about 20 percent of U students received a total of $14.6 million in federal money, a $1.5 million increase from the previous year. Based on applications from this year, the number of students at the U qualifying for the grant is likely to climb again, Curl said.

Curl explained the steady rise by pointing to the state of the economy and subsequent demand for workers to obtain degrees to explain the steady rise in Pell Grants at the U over the course of past years.

“The overall dollar amount of Pell Grants hasn’t gone up, just the number of students applying,” Curl added.

Alternative sources of financial aid

If Bush signs the bill, then some students will have to find alternative means to pay for school.

U student Grant Van Noy said this would cause problems for students who decide to add work to their load.

“When you come home from work, you’re always more exhausted and you don’t have the motivation to study,” he said. “The first couple semesters I was up here, I was working and going to school. I was able to manage, but this semester I’m not [working] and I’m getting a lot more done.”

In light of the pending decrease in Pell Grants, students have other places to turn for financial assistance.

“Hopefully students will get a state grant of some sort, or maybe some other sort of a scholarship,” Curl said. “In the worst-case scenario, they can get a loan that they’re going to compensate for that loss.”

The federal work-study program is one option open to students. This system allows them to earn money through community service and work related to the student’s course of study.

The federal government also lends money to students in Perkins and Stafford loans and to parents through a variety of FFEL and PLUS loans. These forms of aid must be repaid, most of them with interest.

Evans said she would consider taking out loans, but added it would likely cause extra stress in the future.

“I’ve avoided it until now. I just barely make it as is,” she said. “I’m hoping I’d make enough money to pay off the loans after med school, but that will be expensive enough on its own, too.”

Van Noy said he already receives loans on top of his Pell Grant.

“I’ve been fortunate to get enough Pell Grant that it pays for all of my school and tuition and books and I’ve had maybe a couple hundred extra to help with other expenses too,” he said. “But recently my car broke down, so I got a student loan also to get another car. It’s working out for me.”

About two-thirds of all student financial aid comes from federal programs like Pell Grants, according to a federal aid guide from the U.S. Department of Education. That money covers various school expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and transportation.

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