Sen. Norm Coleman proposes to increase Pell Grant award

In his 2006 budget request, President George W. Bush proposed raising the maximum Pell Grant award.

by Cati Vanden Breul

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is leading a group of bipartisan senators in an effort to convince the Senate Budget Committee to increase the Pell Grant award now.

In his 2006 budget request, President George W. Bush proposed raising the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 per student during a five-year period, an increase of $100 a year.

But many in Congress have said they think the Pell Grant program needs a larger increase sooner to battle increasing tuition rates.

Coleman, along with 25 other senators, sent a letter to the chairman of the committee, asking for an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award from $4,050 to $4,500.

In a prepared statement, Coleman said Bush’s proposal encouraged him, but he thinks the Pell Grant needs to increase by $450 right away.

“As much as I applaud this effort, I think that we need (to) see a more rapid increase in funding this year,” he said.

Coleman’s press secretary, Andy Brehm, said that the maximum Pell Grant award has been frozen at $4,050 for three years, even as college tuition has increased considerably.

“The Pell Grant program is critical to providing higher education to needy students,” Brehm said.

Coleman wants language included in the budget that will increase the Pell Grant “right now,” Brehm said.

University students received $14.7 million from Pell Grants during the 2003-04 academic year, according to the Office of Student Finance.

“It’s a good thing Sen. Coleman is proposing an increase now,” said Kris Wright, Office of Student Finance director.

The Pell Grant used to pay for 80 percent of higher education costs, Wright said, but now, it is less than 40 percent.

“That is really the issue,” she said.

The University’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books and living expenses, increased to $17,174 this year from $13,524 in 2000-01, she said.

“Needy students in the $25,000-$30,000 (income) range, even with a Pell Grant, still need to come up with a substantial amount of money,” Wright said.

But Wright said the only way to fund an increase in the Pell Grant would be to raise taxes, increase the budget deficit or cut funding for other programs.

“It’s difficult times in Congress,” she said.

University junior Kent Ortner, the Students Against Political Ignorance president, said that if the plan passes, the funding would most likely come from cutting other programs.

“I don’t think Republicans will raise taxes,” Ortner said.

“If they are going to do this, they will have to cut funding from somewhere else.”

Ortner said the money would most likely come from social programs, which could hurt Democrats in next year’s elections.

Because Coleman’s plan has bipartisan support, Republicans could say a Democratic senator voted against a social program by voting for the Pell Grant increase, he said.

A poll on Coleman’s Web site showed a 77 percent approval rating of his plan.

The committee held hearings on the 2006 federal budget request earlier this week.