Pell Grants likely to remain in place with new federal budget

This is a result of the agreement on a federal budget for the remainder of 2011.

With the United States congressional agreement on a federal budget for the remainder of 2011 comes news that Pell Grants will likely remain intact for the year.

According to the Department of Education’s website, the Federal Pell Grant is awarded to students with the greatest financial need according to a federal eligibility formula. Award amounts range from $555 to $5,550 and are available only to undergraduate students working toward their first bachelor’s degree. The program began in 1972.

In an email, MU Student Financial Aid Director Jim Brooks said MU has just more than 5,600 students receiving a Pell Grant for the 2010-2011 school year.

“The program is helping many of our undergraduate student fund their education at Mizzou,” Brooks said.

During the 2009-2010 school year, MU students received a total of $18.5 million in Pell Grants. That number has increased so far this year, as students to date have received more than $21 million from the grant program.

Brooks said that number could change since the school year is not yet over and students could potentially receive a Pell Grant during the summer depending on the final appropriation of the program.

According to the federal budget for fiscal year 2012, the U.S. plans to sustain the maximum award amount to support President Barack Obama's 2020 higher education goal. The budget acknowledges that maintaining this amount will require tough choices.

"We are on our way to meeting the goal I set when I took office: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world," Obama said. "To get there, we are making college more affordable for millions of students, through the extension of the American Opportunity Tax Cut and maintaining our historic expansion of the Pell Grant program while putting it on firm financial footing."

Some steps outlined in the budget include eliminating the year-round Pell Grant, which it says has cost 10 times more than anticipated without a noticeable impact on students’ academic standing. This measure would cut an estimated $535 million from the budget.

The budget agreement reached Friday included the decision to set spending levels $38.5 billion lower than the current amount. However, it is currently unknown from where this money will be taken.

The Pell Grant, as an educational item, is considered a mandatory item in the budget and is therefore less likely to be reduced than other, discretionary funds. Although, it is unclear how the cuts will be spread.

Brooks said there are alternatives to the Pell Grant in the case that it is cut from the budget.

Aside from MU funded scholarships and need-based grants, the state of Missouri offers grant awards to Missouri students who meet their program criteria.

Brooks also said 20 percent of next year’s tuition increase will go toward financial aid.

“Many of our students work part time jobs using their income to help with the costs of attending Mizzou,” Brooks said. “Also, Ford Federal Direct Stafford Loans are an option for students, and Ford Federal Direct PLUS Loans are an option for parents who qualify.”

Students qualify for the Federal Pell Grant by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

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