Students are feeling the squeeze from Capital Hill once again, with Congress voting in December to tighten Pell Grant restrictions, which will go into effect July 1, 2012.
After a narrow miss from significant cuts during the debt ceiling debacle on Aug. 2, 2011, students may face greater restrictions on the amount of money they may qualify for from the federal program, as well as the number of semesters they may receive it.
The number of semesters that students can receive Pell Grants has been reduced from 18 to 12. While the total amount per year a student may receive has stayed the same – $5,500 – the yearly income cut-off for receiving the full grant has been dropped from $30,000 to just $23,000.
This may have a significant impact on students, particularly those nearing graduation or who have been in school for several years. The changes are also retroactive, making it all the more important for students to plan their academic career wisely.
“We need to be armed with this information so we can start making some good choices,” said Sarah Volstad, Director of Legislative Affairs for Student Senate.
These changes come on the heals of the elimination of the double-Pell Grant in 2011, cutting aid for students wishing to work through the summer semester to fast-track to graduation. That, and the new restrictions ratified last month, will both go into effect this summer.
“It’s definitely not like it was,” said Volstad. “Ten years ago, the state grants were plentiful … tuition was much lower.”
With 65% of MCTC students relying on Pell Grants to attend school, according to the American College Review, all of these changes could make for a harsh 2012 for students who struggle financially, or who are approaching the new semester limits.
MCTC student Andy Freeman, was unaware of the changes to the Pell Grant, and is concerned about the effect it may have on students’ ability to go to college. “I feel it’s very important for folks to go to school and one of the best things out there is financial aid,” he said.
The government is feeling the pinch, with Pell Grant recipients increased by more than 50% since 2008, according to the Department of Education. With tuition also on the rise as government funding to public colleges is slashed, high unemployment, and stagnant wages, paying for an education is becoming a daunting task, and one with increasingly strict time limits.
“It’s so important to say, ‘this is what I have to work with,'” said Volstad. “I was planning on graduating this summer and in order to do that I needed the double-Pell.”
But Volstad’s graduation plans had to change to fit the times. “That really motivated me to run in this position,” she said. “It’s important to know some of these changes because the climate is changing.”