Pell Grant increase goes to students

The bill still needs to be approved by committee and a similar bill will be discussed in the House.

Minnesota students who receive federal Pell Grants will see all of the $819 increase in their maximum award provided by the federal stimulus bill , if the SenateâÄôs higher education omnibus spending bill passes in its current form. The Senate Higher Education Budget Division will continue to discuss the bill next week, but Tuesday they unanimously approved an amendment to it, which would ensure that the increase in Pell Grant funding will be passed along to students, rather than being absorbed into the stateâÄôs general fund . If passed the amendment would clearly mandate that all of the Pell Grant stimulus money would go to students and the state would not be able to reduce its contribution, said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud. MinnesotaâÄôs state higher education grants give aid over and above federal Pell Grants. The state grants are based on a percentage of the cost of attending college, while Federal Pell Grants are awarded in actual dollar amounts. Without changes to Minnesota law, students would have continued to receive the same percentage of support they did before, and the sudden increase in the size of Pell Grant awards could have been used to reduce the stateâÄôs contribution, which has been done in the past. President Barack Obama wanted the stimulus money to go to students, Clark said. âÄúEspecially in these times when there will be cuts, we wanted to make sure they got it,âÄù she said. Minnesota law defines a maxim cost of attending college that the state will cover, and assigns percentages of financial responsibility to students and to their families. State grants cover the difference between a studentâÄôs federal Pell Grant award and that responsibility. That maximum cost of attendance is defined by two numbers: the cost of living, and tuition and fees combined. Cost of living is defined by law, and this school year it was $6,200. The state will cover the average cost of tuition and fees for the year at whichever college the student is attending, but it puts a cap on the amount. The cost for attending a four-year school was capped this year at $9,838 . This is between the average costs of attending the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Both the Senate bill and Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs grant suggestions would pass federal money along to students, but their methods for doing so are slightly different. The GovernorâÄôs proposal calls for a greater increase in living expenses and a higher maximum for tuition and fees to be covered than the Senate does. However, the Senate lowers the percentage families would be responsible for. Actual aid to students would be about the same because both proposals would allocate the same amount of money. Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he thought the higher education omnibus spending bill the House will be discussing next week would also include similar changes to the state grant program.