House bill slashes Pell Grants

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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A U.S. House bill would slash nearly $6 billion from federal Pell Grant funds if the Senate fails to prevent a government shutdown today.

And the law has Iowa financial officers, students, and government officials worried.

At the University of Iowa, students would see roughly a $2.3 million cut to the grant, said Mark Warner, the director of Student Financial Aid.

“It would be a great loss for our students, especially in terms of our neediest students already struggling with access to the university,” he said.

The law proposed by Republicans passed the House Feb. 19; it could lead to a $116 million reduction in Pell Grants in Iowa. The cut could potentially affect 203,000 students in Iowa, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“In Iowa, and across the country, students are taking advantage of year-round Pell Grants in order to get the education and training they need more quickly and with less debt,” said Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, in a press release last month. “There is no question that tough choices need to be made to get our nation’s fiscal health in order, but cutting funding to Pell Grants, or limiting their availability, will put our country at a competitive disadvantage by making it harder for students to afford quality education.” 

The Pell Grant provided more than $15.3 million to roughly 20 percent of UI undergraduates this academic year, Warner said. That’s approximately 4,300 students. The number of students using the grant at the UI has increased in the last three years, he noted.

Under the legislation, the maximum reward for students would be reduced by $845. For UI students, Warner said, that means reducing a potential grant of $5,516 to $4,671.

UI sophomore Abby Jessen said she heavily depends on the $1,000 Pell Grant she receives each semester.

“It’s a substantial chunk of my financial aid,” she said. “It’d be nice to not have to take out loans and repay them for years.”

Mick Starcevich, the president of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, said the cuts would mean lower enrollment for his institution.

“We’re talking about the future, and the future of our country rests in the hands of students in college and those who will soon be going to college,” he said. “The impact is going to be felt for years to come.”

Kirkwood saw a 30 percent increase in students utilizing the grant from fall 2009 to fall 2010, Starcevich said. In addition, he said, summer enrollment at the school increased 41 percent over the same time period because officials could offer the Pell Grant to students for the first time over the summer session.

But under the bill, the Pell Grant would not be made available over the summer.

“This all just means many of our students who already work part-time and attend school will have to take on more work hours,” Starcevich said.

And for Jessen, every bit of the funding counts.

“My mom is a single mom, so we really need all the help we can get,” she said. “It would suck to lose it.

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