Changes to the Pell Grant will place time limits on grant recipients.
Dating back to nearly four decades ago, the Basic Education Opportunity Grant, later renamed the Pell Grant, was created to help provide federal financial assistance to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford higher education.
Named after the late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell from Rhode Island, the Pell Grant has awarded millions of low and middle-income undergraduate students federal money based on annual family income and school cost, which never needs to be repaid.
These grants, which usually fluctuate in amount per semester, are applied for by students through universities or colleges, but awarded directly to the student who then decides how the money will be spent.
Professor Emeritus of History of American Education William Cutler agreed with the way Pell Grants are distributed, and said he thinks a student should have the freedom to spend the grant how he or she wishes.
“It means a more democratic system,” Cutler said.
Junior sociology major Bridgette Nina Adekoya from Virginia receives a Pell Grant and uses it to help pay her tuition.
“It’s important to me because it is a big help for me and my family,” Adekoya said.
Adekoya, who has received the Pell Grant since her freshman year, not only uses the aid for fall and spring semesters, but has also put it toward paying for summer sessions.
“These are opportunity grants and they have made possible college attendance by lots of students who probably wouldn’t have been able to go if they wouldn’t have gotten Pell Grant money,” Cutler said.
According to the Department of Education Student Financial Assistance Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request, the number of Pell Grant recipients has increased more than 50 percent since 2008. Similarly, costs of the Pell Grant program have more than doubled in the past three years, now at an expected $34.4 billion cost in award year 2011-12. This, alongside the nation’s struggling economy, has made the Pell Grant a major target by cost-cutting legislators.
Since the development of the Pell Grant, many amendments have been made to the fund, which have changed eligibility requirements, maximum award amounts or total money made available for student aid.
Throughout 2011, GOP Congress members, such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, proposed lowering the maximum Pell amount from $5,500 and limiting eligibility for recipients, which was determined to cause at least one million students to lose their access to the grant entirely.
Last year, when student debt was reaching its highest point as many college and university tuitions increased yet again, some congressional republicans had even wished to cut Pell Grants entirely, potentially destroying the dreams of many low-income students seeking higher education.
The Pell Grant lessens the blow of college tuition for any student receiving it, and as budget cuts force tuition increases, many students have felt compelled to get jobs to just be able to make ends meet. Being a full-time student and working “makes it hard for students to get the most out of their education,” Cutler said. And a lot of times, makes it more difficult to graduate after four years.
After months of debate, Congress voted in December to decrease the number of semesters one student may receive the grant, from 18 to 12, but keep the maximum Pell award amount at $5,550–$4,860 is provided through discretionary appropriations and $690 is provided through mandatory funds–according to the final Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations bill HR 3671.
This plan is to be in effect on July 1, 2012. But it is retroactive, which can enormously affect students who are just a few semesters away from graduating, possibly still unaware that their planned grant for the upcoming year might be soon taken right out of their hands.
“It’s restricting people from receiving help, especially when they need it,” Adekoya said.
Congress also has changed some other Pell eligibility criteria, such as reducing the income level below which a student will automatically receive the maximum Pell Grant from $30,000 to $23,000. These amendments will take away Pell opportunities from at least 100,000 of its current national recipients, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
The Institute for College Access and Success also reported, “The proposed limit would disproportionately harm African-American students and transfer students, including those near graduation.”
Many Temple students will be affected by this amendment to the Pell Grant. Almost half of incoming Temple students are transfer students from other colleges or universities, and most of the students come from low and middle-income backgrounds, relying heavily on financial aid.
The Pell Grant has yet again made its way into the federal budget, but only time will tell how long it will last.
Lauren Hertzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.