Pell Grants may receive less funding

By Eva McEnrue

President Barack Obama proposed a 2012 Department of Education budget Monday that would cut $100 billion from the Federal Pell Grant Program and other higher education programs.

The Pell Grant Program currently serves 9 million low-income students, and is expected to reach 9.6 million students next year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“About 21 percent, slightly more than 4,900 UK undergraduate students are receiving funding from the Pell Grant Program this year,” said Lynda George, the UK director of Student Financial Aid. “The average award received this academic year by eligible students is $3,870.”

The budget would preserve the current maximum Pell Grant of $5,550 per academic year.

“To qualify for a Pell Grant, students must demonstrate ‘financial need’ as determined by a federally mandated analysis of the family income and asset information submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application,” George said. “It is possible with this budget cut that the program’s eligibility criteria may tighten, eliminating eligibility for some students who were previously eligible.”

To sustain the program responsibly, the proposal will eliminate provisions of the program that enable students to receive two grants in one year. These two grants include one for the regular academic year and another for summer school. Under Obama’s proposed budget, one Pell Grant would be awarded per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Last summer, 545 UK students received slightly more than $713,000 from the Pell Grant Program,” George said. “For some students, that money made it possible for them to attend summer school.”

The Federal Pell Grant Program is considered the foundation of the financial aid packages for the lowest-income students in the financial aid population.

UK students will receive more than $19 million in Pell Grant funds this academic year.

“Any decrease in funding will make it more difficult for these students to meet the cost of attending the university,” George said. “The elimination of the second Pell Grant in an award year may result in fewer of these students enrolling in classes during the summer sessions.”

The budget would also end interest subsidies for federal graduate student loans. The government currently pays the interest on subsidized Federal Stafford Loans borrowed by graduate and professional students while they remain in school. Under this proposal, the interest on loans would continue to accumulate while the student is enrolled in school, but the student would not have to start repaying the loans until after graduation.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the 2012 budget proposal asks for $77.4 billion that includes $48.8 billion for public education reforms and head start programs. This is an increase of about 4 percent above the 2011 budget. Congress has not yet approved the 2012 budget.