Congress revises Pell Grant eligibility

Adam Wright and Adam Wright

Students who receive the Pell Grant as part of their financial aid package may soon have to look elsewhere to pay for school.

Congress voted late last month to allow the U.S. Department of Education to update a formula that determines who is eligible for the grant. The update will increase the Expected Family Contribution that states the amount students must pay for their own education.

Since students will have to shell out more of their own money, the DOE will decrease the amount it spends on the grant.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators estimates that tens of thousands of recipients will lose their grants entirely while more than a million will see a reduction. Bowling Green State University has 3,889 students who receive Pell Grants.

One of those students, sophomore Jatoya Talley, depends on the grant to attend school.

“If I’m affected I’ll either need to try and get more scholarship money or my mother will have to take out more loans, which she can’t afford,” Talley said.

Director of Student Financial Aid Craig Cornell said it is difficult to predict who at the University will be affected since the EFC is only one of the formulas used to determine eligibility. He also explained that students whose families make a salary of $15,000 or less will not see a change.

Cornell estimates that few if any of those who are affected will lose their grants completely and reductions they will see will total no more than $200.

“It’s a minimal impact, but every dollar of grant money is a dollar they don’t have to earn themselves,” Cornell said. “It’s not a good thing for higher education.”

NASFAA, where Cornell is a member, is leading the fight against the update. Its president, Dallas Martin, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Rod Paige urging him to use his executive discretion to stop the update.

Revising the formula will make it consistent with state and local tax tables, which are used to determine how much families are expected to contribute to a child’s higher education. Since tables have shifted showing an increase in average income within the last ten years, which is the last time the formula was updated, families will be expected to pay more.

A revision of the formula is supposed to take place every five to seven years in accordance with the Higher Education Act, but a congressional amendment passed last year blocked it from happening. Congress originally voted to continue the amendment when it expired in September, but it was dropped from the final version of the spending bill it was attached to.

The Pell Grant currently accounts for nearly 15 percent of the higher education budget.

Republican Chairman of the House education committee John Boehner sent out a press release after the amendment was dropped explaining that the DOE could not afford to adequately fund the Pell Grant if the update did not take place, which would hurt the neediest students.

Calling the old formula “outdated,” Boehner estimated that without an update the current Pell Grant budget shortfall would be deepened by hundreds of millions of dollars.