Monday, March 5, 2012

2011-2012 Pell Grant Changes: How Will You be Affected?

By Taylor Hastings

Federal Financial aid demands are at an all time high, and funding at a low point. In 2011, nine million undergraduate students were awarded Pell Grants. However, Congress voted to change the Federal Pell Grant program for the next year. 

What is a Pell Grant? A Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid.  The maximum Pell grant for the 2011-12 award year (July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012) is $5,550.  The amount you receive depends on your financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. A number of students at Trident Technical College receive financial aid in the form of Pell Grants.

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, Congress passed a temporary spending bill that barely diverted a shutdown of the federal government but rendered the Pell Grant program and Subsidized Stafford Loans severely damaged.  What are these changes?

·       Students will only be awarded one fulltime semester grant per school year versus the two they were allowed under the old plan.

·       Students will not be eligible for summer grants unless they attended part-time fall or spring semester. If this is the case, what portion of aid was not exhausted will ‘roll over’ to summer semester.  For example, if you attend TTC as a part time student during spring semester and complete 6 credit hours, you will have 6 ‘roll over’ credit hours of grant money to apply to summer semester.

·       Students who wish to be eligible for Pell Grants are now required to obtain a GED or a high school diploma.

·       Students may find it harder to qualify. Congress is tightening income standards, and students may find they receive a smaller grant in response to their next application. At this time, exact figures reflecting eligible income have yet to be released.
These changes will be effective by July 2012 and will be felt by new and previously enrolled students.
These recent changes have been in motion as early as August of 2008 when the national debt ceiling was raised. This negotiation cut funding for the Pell Grant program and left the program $1.3 billion dollars short. These adjustments are projected to save the federal government $11 billion dollars over the next decade. However, Pauline Abernathy, Vice President of the Institute for College Access and Success warns, “I don’t know that lawmakers realize they are going to potentially eliminate - - for more than 100,000 students - - access to college next year, including some who may be one semester away from completing a degree.”
Pell Grants can help limit student debt. Students don’t want to graduate with substantial loans. We need to learn to use our financial aid wisely. What can you do to protect yourself from needless education debt?
·       You should clearly understand your award and/or loans and the terms. If you have any questions, the Financial Aid office has staff available to explain your eligibility to you.
·       You should meet with your TTC academic advisor immediately, settle on a program of study and commit to graduation. Put your goal on paper by mapping out the classes you will be taking and when you will be taking them.
·       You should take only the classes necessary for your program. Reassess your classes every semester and contact your program of study before you graduate to make sure course requirements for graduation have not changed.
·       You should maintain your grades to avoid repeating failed classes, extra expense and delayed graduation.
By educating yourself and taking responsibility now, students can protect their futures after graduation, in spite of these recent changes and any that may follow. For more information about Pell Grants, visit the U.S. Department of Education website devoted to Pell Grants.


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