Proposal would increase student Pell Grant awards

Erin Ghere

The average Pell Grant would increase $175 per student under an agreement between congressional Republicans and President Clinton. Congress is expected to vote on the bill by the end of the week.
The bill includes $7.7 billion for Pell Grants and $600 million for training hospitals, such as the University’s Academic Health Center, for the 2000-01 school year.
Total Pell Grant spending is decreasing $4 million from 1999, but a $437 million surplus from past years will end up increasing grants $175 per student, said Andrew McDonald, spokesman for Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
The bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant from $3,125 to $3,300 per student.
Although the increase is commendable, McDonald said Wellstone thinks Congress should do even more for students.
Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., was unavailable for comment.
Republicans also agreed to provide $200 million for Gear Up, a program that grants money to help needy students pay for college. Republicans originally offered $180 million; Clinton was asking for $240 million.
Federal funding for teaching hospitals amounted to an extra $600 million during the next five years, said Larry Robbins, spokesman for Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn. The amount is an increase over a sum established in the 1997 balanced-budget agreement.
The bill includes $12 million in new graduate medical-education funds, restoring some, but not all, of the funding cut in the 1997 agreement, Robbins said.
The changes will be included in a final omnibus appropriations bill, Robbins said. Congress will adjourn for the year after the bill passes, probably later this week.
State Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, a member of the state House Higher Education Finance committee, said the increase is a “major plus.”
But the federal bill could add to a state Legislature fight about the beneficiary of the raise. Some legislators argue that Pell Grant increases should be reflected in their state grants.
But cutting state grants is not all bad, said Phil Lewenstein, spokesman for the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, which deals with state financial aid.
Whatever cuts are made in state grants will help cover living and miscellaneous expenses, Lewenstein said. Currently, students are only responsible for 47 percent of their expenses if they apply for financial aid. With more funding, that percentage could decrease.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.