Bush plans to up Pell Grants

Bush said he will ask Congress to reform the guaranteed student-loan program.

Cati Vanden Breul

President George W. Bush announced last week that although he will not include his proposal to raise the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 in his 2006 budget request, he plans to raise the grant amounts through Congress during the next five years.

If he is successful, students awarded Pell Grants would be eligible for $4,550 a year in federal funding.

Federal Pell Grants are given to low-income undergraduate students and, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid.

Bush said he will ask Congress to reform the guaranteed student-loan program to make it more effective and, with savings from that reform, pledge more money to funding Pell Grants and eliminating the student-aid budget shortfall.

The president has not given any specific details on the changes he hopes to make, but a Republican Party fact sheet listed “reducing excessive subsidies and program costs” as one measure.

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

Kris Wright, the office’s director, said approximately 25 percent of University students were awarded Pell Grants last year.

Barb Schlaefer, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, said it is hard to judge what effect Bush’s proposal will have on University students because it is still only a proposal.

But she said she is pleased increased funding for Pell Grants is on the agenda.

“Any time more need-based resources for students to attend college are proposed, it is a good thing,” Schlaefer said. “The Pell Grant has not seen much in the way of an increase for a while.”

Campus Republicans President Tom Meyer said Bush’s proposal is a good one.

“I think Bush has a responsible plan to help students,” Meyer said.

But some University officials aren’t so sure.

Wright said she does not think increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 will account for the significant tuition increases students are facing.

She said the University’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books and living expenses, has increased 27 percent during the last five years, from $13,524 in the 2000-01 school year to $17,174 this year.

Bruce Schelske, director of the University’s TRiO Student Support Services program, said the increase will not account for inflation. He said approximately 80,000 students will be cut from the Pell Grant program as a result of a congressional bill passed in November.

As federal support for higher-education funding decreases, students will have to pick up more of the cost of college, Wright said.

“If grant aid does not keep pace with increasing tuition rates and cost of attendance, students will have to take out more loans and work more,” Wright said.

The need for more federal student-aid comes when the nation is trillions of dollars in debt.

The national deficit limits the programs Congress can fund, Wright said, and to reduce debt, the government must raise taxes or reduce costs.

“Congress and the president are going to face a lot of difficult choices ahead because of the budget shortfall,” Wright said.

Bush’s proposal will “certainly make it difficult for Pell Grant students to successfully complete their schooling,” Wright said.

But Meyer said students should be happy with the money they get from Pell Grants.

“It’s free money. It may not be as high as people want, but it is still money they didn’t earn,” Meyer said.

Bush will release his official budget proposal for fiscal year 2006 in February.