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Pell Grants rightfully prioritized by UI

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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A total of $2 million will come out of University of Iowa graduate students' wallets to secure nearly $16 million in undergraduate financial aid.

With the recent change in federal student-aid policy, UI students with federal Stafford Loans with have to pay interest on their loans while still attending college. Money collected from the interest will help keep Pell Grants in place and up to undergraduate students' current need for fiscal support.

Though educational funding ideally would not be cut at all, Pell Grants were rightfully prioritized over Stafford Loans.

Pell Grants provide undergraduate students with inadequate financial support the means to acquire higher education. Stafford Loans support aspiring graduate students (who would more likely be able to secure other loans) — but, unlike the debt-free Pell Grants, Stafford Loans need to be paid back.

Education is the silver bullet to success, not only in a global economy but also in a global community. With more learning comes more understanding about varied lifestyles and exposure to cultures usually hidden in obscurity.

Finances are a perpetual weight on the minds of students facing fiscal limitations. In a 2009 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, two-thirds of students reported significant financial concerns headed into their first year, the highest levels since 1971. According to the survey, more than 53 percent of students are relying on financial aid that necessitates repayment, the highest number in the decade.

Pell Grants, which need not be repaid, allow these students to continue learning and to reach their optimum potential. Based on a person's need, the grant will give up to $5,550, supporting every aspect of an undergraduate student's college life. The sum can be used to help support a student to study abroad, pay for books, and help with room and board. With the average cost of public college at $9,000 for tuition, not to mention the $35,000 — cost of an average private school, Pell Grants are more than necessary for the less fortunate — they are often their only means of attending college.

Mark Warner, the director of UI Student Financial Aid, notes that Pell Grants are vital to UI students' success — 4,354 students receive $15.8 million in grants, averaging $3,648 of aid received from the grants. This constitutes slightly more than 20 percent of the UI undergraduate students enrolled for the 2010-11 academic year.

Pell Grants are crucial to the fabric of the UI's student body as they provide for a more diversified and hard-working academic community. Warner said those who received the majority of Pell Grants at the UI are high academic achievers, which contributes positively to the quality of overall student life.

"By providing an avenue to this university for these students, the Pell Grants allow this university to provide an outstanding undergraduate education and offer unique experiences, and perhaps pave a way for these students to enroll in any one of our outstanding graduate or professional programs," Warner said. "The Pell Grants not only provide access but allow students to have choices in the college or university they prefer to attend."

The primary difference between loans, such as Stafford Loans, and grants, is that grants do not need to be repaid, whereas loans place the cost directly on the student after graduation. Students with grants do not have to worry about falling into debt when it comes to educational costs, and can more easily find a job fitting their passions and not a less fulfilling job just to pay back hefty interest rates.

"Minimizing student debt upon graduation provides students more flexibility with their postgraduation plans, allowing options for graduate/professional enrollment without considering excess debt, and maybe allowing more flexibility with job opportunities," Warner said.

In this climate, cuts are inevitable, even to educational programs that need it the most. Education is the key to an increase in opportunities life can provide and should be made easier to obtain in this modern world. Paying the government money during college is annoying, but at the end of the day, we would rather pay a little interest than see our neighbor's kid not go to college because he can't afford it.


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