Senate committee passes funding bill

Lacey Crisp

A bill that funds federal student-aid programs and other aspects of higher education passed in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

One part of the bill included an additional $823.3 million for Pell Grants, but students will not see increased grants as a result of that increase, said Phil Lewenstein, director of communications and legislative services at the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office.

“The president has not recommended a higher maximum Pell Grant, and so none was given,” Lewenstein said.

Lewenstein said most of the increased funding will go to

paying back a deficit in the Pell Grant program. In the last few years, Congress has spent more in Pell Grants than what it appropriated.

“The demand for Pell Grants has been up significantly, therefore the Congress has had to come up with the money from other funds,” Lewenstein said.

Because of that, the Pell Grant program is expected to have a shortfall of approximately $4 billion at the end of this school year, he said.

The maximum amount students can receive through Pell Grants is currently $4,050.

With other issues vying for money from the limited federal budget, such as military involvement in Iraq, Lewenstein said he isn’t surprised the amount was not increased.

“Of course, people would like to see the maximum for the Pell Grant go up, considering how much the price of college has gone up,” Lewenstein said.

The TRIO program were given almost $12 million more for next year. TRIO is a group of programs that help low-income and first-generation students get in and through college.

Lewenstein said 30 campuses across Minnesota, including one tribal agency, use the TRIO programs. The money helps approximately 15,000 Minnesotans pay for college.

“Our population is changing, and we are having a lot more low-income and minority students who could really use these grants,” Lewenstein said.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a program similar to TRIO, helps low-income students through state and federal grants. GEAR UP was awarded $4.3 million more for next year.

“I am extremely pleased that the Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations bill for 2005 includes an $823 million increase for the Pell Grant program. This is definitely good news,” Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said in an e-mail.

Coleman said he was disappointed that an amendment to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $450 was not adopted.

“With tuition increases on the rise, I think (the increase) is needed now, and I remain fully committed to fighting for increasing the maximum award,” Coleman said.

A response from Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., also criticized the lack of additional Pell Grant funding.

“Although the costs of obtaining a higher education continue to skyrocket, we hold to the status quo with respect to student aid,” a statement from Dayton read.

The e-mail said 77,000 Minnesota students used Pell Grants to fund their higher education last year.

“We can do more for those Minnesotans,” the statement said.

A similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would give less funding to some student aid programs. This includes a grant that gives additional money to needy students who receive Pell Grants.

Differences in the House and the Senate’s bills must be reconciled before they can become law.