Grants favor science fields

Some students of technology, science and foreign languages will be eligible.

Aidan M. Anderson

While rising tuition, flat Pell Grants and the potential elimination of Perkins loans pose challenges to paying for college, two new federal grants will help some students cover the costs.

The American Competitiveness Grant and National SMART Grant, proposed by Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., are designed to bolster the countryís number of math, science and foreign language experts, and will receive a boost from $790 million in 2006 to $850 million in 2007.

This yearís funding for the programs was solidified by passage of the Deficit Reduction Act on Feb. 8.

These grants are available to low-income students who receive Pell Grants and excel in technical fields like engineering, math, science and critical foreign languages.

The American Competitiveness Grants are designed for first- and second-year students who complete a rigorous high school course and move on to college. These students are eligible for $750 their first year of school and $1,300 their second.

Students who pursue a major in technology fields and foreign languages and maintain a 3.0 grade point average will be eligible for the National SMART Grant of $4,000 per year for their junior and senior years of college.

ìWe knew the higher education bill was a part of the (Deficit Reduction Act), and we knew there would be a savings generated Ö we felt that was our best opportunity (to pass the grants) since Sen. Frist will only be here for another 11 months,” said Andrea Becker, Fristís chief of staff.

The grant is a change from conventional grants like the Pell because it targets a national effort, Becker said.

Because the funding is already allocated and should be distributed by September, the Department of Education will have to scramble to determine who receives the grants, said Valerie Smith, a department spokeswoman.

ìThis year, weíll have to rely on the states to identify eligible students because itís such a quick turnaround,” she said.

The Association of American Universities has reacted positively to the measure, but its concerns revolve around whether the grants can be distributed for the 2006-2007 academic year.

There are also policy questions about making the grants available to permanent resident-alien students and part-time students, said Matt Owens, senior federal relations officer for the association.

ìThere are plenty of bright people who are half-time students working hard, who are making good grades and qualify for the program,” he said. ìItíd be great if they could take advantage of it.”

Minnesotaís Republican senator has come out in favor of the measures.

ìThese grants will not only increase the overall student base by providing low-income students the chance to obtain an education in (science and technology) areas, they will also provide the University with a larger breadth of knowledge to continue leading other universities in research and innovation,” wrote Luke Friedrich, a press secretary for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., in an e-mail.

But while Democratic Minnesota Sen. Mark Daytonís office said the new programs are good, there are larger issues with higher education funding.

ìWhile these SMART grants attempt to bring low-income students a step closer to affording higher education, they do not reconcile the fact that the Bush administration wants to zero out the Perkins loan program,” wrote Colleen Murray, deputy press secretary for Dayton in an e-mail.