HR 3671, the $1 trillion bill that Congress has approved, means that the government will keep running but contains bad news for some 100,000 low-income college students. Pell Grants provide low-income students with funding for higher education and Republicans have been seeking to slash their funding for the past several months. The just-passed bill preserves the maximum amount of the grant, but changes the eligibility criteria and also the terms under which the grants can be applied.
Inside HigherEd gives the details:
The bill, HR 3671, draws from ideas put forward in Republican and Democratic spending plans earlier this year: it would preserve the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550, but change the program’s eligibility criteria, making as many as 100,000 of its 9 million recipients ineligible. The grants could be used for a total of 12 semesters, not 18, as in the past — a change that would affect an estimated 62,000 beneficiaries and take effect July 1, 2012. Higher education lobbyists said the limit would apply to any semesters a student was enrolled, rather than only those in which he or she attended full-time, as they had originally thought.
The maximum amount families could earn and automatically contribute nothing toward an undergraduate education would decrease from $30,000 to $23,000.
Under the new bill, students who lack high school diplomas or GEDs will no longer be able to qualify for a Pell Grant by taking an “ability to benefit” test.
The Chronicle of Higher Education points out that an earlier House bill, HR 3070, was even more stringent about Pell Grant requirements. That bill would have lowered the income cap even further, to $15,000, as well as significantly reducing how much income that working students could exclude when applying for student aid. HR 3070 would have also counted food stamps, refundable tax credits and untaxed Social Security benefits against applicants for aid.
Other student aid programs, including Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work-Study, are to receive flat financing.
The change about the number of semesters for which a student can use the grant could mean, as Think Progress points out, that some students who are short only one or two courses to graduate will not be able to. Citing the Institute for College Access and Success, it’s noted that the changes in Pell Grant funding will disproportionately affect African-American students and transfer students. Many students from low-income backgrounds, as well as many students attending community college, are often only able to attend school part-time on the way to earning a degree, not because they want to but because the funds just aren’t there.
There’s no question that, even as the benefits of a college degree for life-time earnings and even one’s health have become more apparent, it has become increasingly difficult to fund a college education and especially for those who face the most challenges to pay the tuition bill.
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