Bill pitches larger grants

The Pell Grant increase would target poor students who took harder high school classes.

by Amy Horst

Low-income students who take demanding high school courses would be eligible to receive more Pell Grant money under a bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The bill would give 36,000 low-income students who complete challenging high school coursework up to $1,000 more for their first two years of college. To receive assistance during their second year of college, students would have to get a 3.0 grade point average during their first year in college.

But at the University, where 6,000 students receive Pell Grants, some question the bill’s worth.

Larry Bloom, manager of University undergraduate services, said Congress is authorized to spend much more on Pell Grants than they do and that he would like to first see overall Pell funding increase .

“It just seems like policy makers think up these types of things instead of a way to make their programs more effective,” Bloom said.

Bloom also said he was concerned the bill would cause the government to give Pell Grants to students based on academic achievement rather than financial need, which is what they have been solely based on since their inception in 1965.

Phil Lewenstein, director of communications and legislative services at the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, said better funding for all Pell Grants should be a priority because the grant amount has not increased while college tuition has.

But students could also benefit from the bill, Lewenstein said.

“There is some merit in recognizing, encouraging and rewarding good academic preparation,” he said. “There is a correlation between students completing a rigorous high school curriculum and then entering and succeeding in college.”

The bill could exclude some students from low-income families, said Fran Stark, tutor coordinator for the TRiO student services support program at the General College.

“That’s a tough (issue) because unfortunately the students being targeted are not usually prepared for college,” Stark said. “They come in with a lot of issues that they have to get through, like writing skills, math skills and test-taking strategies.”