After expecting cuts, the Pell Grants survived the federal budget process.
The United States Senate Committee on Appropriations recently approved a new federal budget for the Department of Education that includes the single largest source of grant aid for postsecondary education, the Pell Grant program. The program has financially assisted more than 10,000 full- and part-time undergraduate students who attend Temple this year.
The 2012 fiscal year budget maintains the Pell Grant maximum at $5,550 for a total program appropriation of $23 billion. However, the bill eliminated the “two Pells” grant program, which was enacted in 2008 to allow students who were enrolled in summer courses to receive two grants for the academic year.
Since 2008, the number of undergraduates who receive Pell Grants at Temple has increased by 30 percent to 10,338, accounting for approximately $39.5 million, said John Morris, the director of student financial services. The grants are distributed to undergraduates annually based on financial need determined by information provided on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms.
“The Pell Grants increased when stimulus funds were added to the program,” Morris said in an email. “Stimulus funds are being withdrawn, and the change in Congress has brought about the change in Pell.”
Approximately 8 million U.S. college students rely on Pell Grants each year to help pay for college, according to the U.S. Committee on Education and Labor. While the Pell Grant program was preserved in the bill, cuts to the two Pells program saved the federal government $8 billion.
Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org, said the budget cut will affect undergraduates financially at “pretty much every level of institution” from community colleges to private universities.
“When you have a budget shortfall, you preserve the core program, while getting rid of the bells and whistles,” Kantrowitz said. “The overall impact is, [when] you take away $8 billion in grant money, that means that the students, who would have taken the second Pell Grant, now have to borrow to pay for their education, or they have to change educational plans.”
Sophomore therapeutic recreation major Tesia Williams, who receives money from Pell Grants, said she is in need of additional financial aid.
“I usually do work study, but I couldn’t do it this semester,” Williams said. “But I’ll be doing it in the summer.”
“The Pell Grant works because I usually don’t have to owe Temple any extra money,” Williams added.
According to a recent Department of Education report, the growth of the Pell Grant program funding has attributed to several factors, including the number of eligible students, as the department reported an increase in students applying for, and attending, college.
Kantrowitz said the maximum amount awarded to undergraduates hasn’t kept pace with the increase in cost to attend college.
“Historically, the average Pell Grant has increased at about 1 percent over the consumer price index,” Kantrowitz said. “I personally feel that the Pell Grant program is not an adequate level of funding.”
Senior social work major Alex McNeil said he has received Pell Grants since he was a sophomore.
“I definitely wouldn’t have made it through college without financial aid,” McNeil said. “If I would have, I would be $60,000-$80,000 in debt or something like that. I’m still going to be in debt either way, but [financial aid] has made college bearable.”
McNeil, the founder and president of Project Education for the Development of Unity, said his student organization advocates for the access of education for people of all income levels.
“My personal feelings are that education should be as affordable, if not free, for everyone,” McNeil said. “OK, there’s a few exceptions here and there, but for the most part, you don’t get anywhere in life without a college degree, and if this is the land of equal opportunity, then we need those opportunities.”
Junior geology major Molly Schreiner said she doesn’t receive Pell Grants, but agrees the Pell Grant program should continue to be funded.
“I feel like a lot of students are struggling with financial aid right now,” Schreiner said. “I don’t really know much about the situation that’s happening right now, but I definitely know that there are students who are my friends and my peers who are definitely struggling with it. It needs to be more available and more readily accessible because it’s such a process.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at email@example.com.