Pell Grants could face cuts in event of financial aid shortfall

The cuts could take money away from need-based applicants.

College students are seeking federal financial aid in record numbers, leaving Congress responsible for alleviating a possible $6 billion shortfall for Pell Grants next year.

The New York Times reported the shortfall in a Sept. 17 report, citing a memo the Bush administration sent to Congress, but MU administrators said the deficit shouldn't affect students' access to the grants.

The Pell Grant, created in 1972, is the federal government's basic need-based aid program, reserved for the most needy Free Application for Federal Student Aid applicants, Student Financial Aid Director Joseph Camille said.

Students who receive Pell Grants represent the demographic needing the most aid, in relation to family size, income, number of siblings in school and institution attended, Camille said.

This fiscal year, Congress used $14 billion for Pell Grants out of its $83 billion budget for federal aid, and the highest Pell Grant award was $4,731 according to the U.S. Department of Education Web site.

Camille said there is no information available at the moment about this year's Pell Grants. MU's most recent statistics for Pell Grants, for the 2006-07 academic year, show 3,248 students received more than $8.2 million, roughly a $100,000-increase from the year prior.

According to the College Board, MU students on average receive $6,759 in need-based grants each year.

To fix the shortfall, Congress will either have to add $6 billion for new funds or cut back Pell Grants, Department of Education officials told The New York Times.

MU junior Michele Pruitte has received Pell Grants every year she's been in college. Federal aid, including a Pell Grant, covers about a third of her total costs. Cutting back Pell Grants would make paying for college much harder, she said.

"Pell Grants are $2,000 less I have to take out in loans," Pruitte said. "Without them I'd have to take out more student loans, and I'm trying to avoid that."

Taking out more loans could also be a problem for MU junior Kelly Bowers.

"I have a cap on my loans," she said. "$2,000 more is a lot to ask when taking out a loan."

Sophomore Jacques Dupuis and his sister Genevieve attend the University of Notre Dame, a school that costs more than $49,000 per year. Federal aid, he said, covers about $8,000 of his school's price tag. 

A decrease in federal aid, he said, would bring substantial adjustments to his life.

"It would mean cutting back on spending and working more during the summer," Dupuis said.

Camille said there is no need to worry about students losing Pell Grants. Shortfalls, he said, have occurred in the past, and Congress has never cut back Pell Grants.

"Congress will always take care of it," he said. "They understand that higher education is the engine of this country's economy."

More than likely, taxpayers would fund the Pell Grant shortfall, according to The New York Times article.

Dupuis said using taxpayers' money would ultimately be worthwhile.

"If the economy is going to recover, we're going to need more higher education," he said. 


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