House plans to cut Pell Grant

Rachel de la Torre

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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that proposes a 15 percent reduction in the maximum Pell Grant award. Currently at $5,550, the reduction would take effect fall 2011.

Awarded to almost nine million students in the 2010-11 academic year, the Pell Grant is a federal grant that does not need to be repaid. According to the U.S.

Department of Education website, eligibility requirements include financial need and satisfactory academic progress. Students must also be working towards a degree at an approved institution.

In the budget proposal for 2012, President Obama proposes measures that may preserve the current amount, such as eliminating the availability of a second Pell Grant in a single academic year and taking away subsidized loans from graduate, medical and professional students.  The savings from such measures could be enough to prevent reductions in the fall. 

Takeo Kubo, Director of Financial Aid at San Jose City College, gave some pointers to help students who depend on federal grants:  apply for aid early, and complete your classes.

“Going into the fall semester, get things in order earlier in the summer time (May, June, July), so that you’re receiving financial aid funds in September versus October or November,” Kubo said.

Planning ahead definitely helps when budgeting for the semester. Kubo said “It doesn’t replace the funds they may stand to lose because of these cuts and everything, but it gets them their funds sooner, so that they can use them at the beginning of the semester for their books.”

Completing classes successfully can also prevent students from being placed on probation and having to petition for financial aid reinstatement. 

“We can let students know about different programs that are available,” said Raymond Porras, Associated Students president and work-study student. “… But for the most part, students have to actually get out there and find there’s money available.”

It can be difficult to get students to take advantage of these programs. Porras said, “We tried to give away 100 book grants for $100 each, and we could only give away 75. Nobody wanted them (the other 25). It’s hard to give away free money.”

In regards to scholarship applications this semester, Kubo said “we need more people to apply.”

Uninformed students such as 22-year-old nursing major Justina Gomez said “that (the Pell Grant reduction) doesn’t sound very good.”

While a 15 percent reduction is a significant amount of lost funds, students can still fulfill their financial needs through scholarships, programs and other grants. Good grades and proper planning never hurt anyone, either.

Robert Davis, a work-study student working in the counseling office, said “The ones that are dedicated, they’ll find ways around it.”