Congress has passed provisions in the budget for the 2004 fiscal year that prevented approximately 84,000 students from losing their eligibility for Pell Grants during the next school year, according to Department of Education estimates.
Last week the Senate passed legislation, by a vote of 65-28, to keep the Education Department from making a change in the formula used to calculate a student’s need for federal financial aid.
The 2004 fiscal year began last Oct. 1.
The legislation was passed as part of a bill covering all agencies whose funding was not approved during last year’s normal legislative session. President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which passed almost four months after its deadline.
The Pell Grant limit will stay the same, however, as Congress failed to increase the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 per academic year, despite senators’ attempts to raise the bar.
“While I am pleased to see an increase in funding for Pell Grants in this year’s appropriations bill, the amount of funds provided is not nearly enough to ensure that every qualified student who wants to attend college can afford to do so,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). “Pell Grants are, and have been, critically important tools in making higher education a possibility for lower- and middle-income students.”
Dodd introduced legislation that, within six years, would double the maximum Pell Grant a student could receive. His bill would increase the current maximum incrementally each year, up to $11,600 for the 2009-2010 academic year by amending the Higher Education Act, a piece of legislation that affects many aspects of college funding.
Not all AU students on financial aid receive Pell Grants as part of their financial aid package. However, according to Financial Aid Director Brian Lee Sang, the average financial aid package can be a poor indicator of need.
“It does not indicate the average need or reflect what the ‘average’ student would receive or even what a ‘middle-class’ student would receive,” Lee Sang said. “It doesn’t say what percentage of need we are meeting or how much money we have to spend. The average package depends on who applies, when they apply, their need level for that particular year, the cost of attendance and other outside variables.”
Increased funding targets diversity and science research
Provisions in the bill call for an increase in federal spending on other student aid programs, including raising the budget of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program to $775 million, a 1.3 percent increase.
Additionally, the plan includes an appropriation of about $28 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a 3.7 percent increase from last year. This agency is the largest single source of funds for university research.
The bill also increases spending on the TRIO programs for low-income and disabled students to $837.5 million and allows $300 million for Gear Up, a program that helps prepare middle-school students from low-income families for college.
This means TRIO programs and Gear Up would get $5 million more than last year, less than a 1 percent increase. The TRIO programs require that two-thirds of the students served must come from families with incomes under $24,000 and that neither parent graduated from college.