The 2012 Department of Education budget President Barack Obama proposed last Monday would sustain Pell Grants at their current maximum of $5,550 per college student.
In efforts to cut costs, however, the budget would eliminate year-round Pell Grants, which allow students to receive an additional grant for summer school.
The budget would also affect graduate and professional students by ending the benefit of having the federal government pay interest on their loans while they are in school.
“While the higher education community does not agree with all the choices made, we support the overall objective of ensuring a viable array of student aid programs anchored by the indispensible Pell Grant,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, in a public statement.
What is to come for Pell Grants is still uncertain, as the budget awaits approval by Congress.
Last year, Congress passed legislation to provide an extra $36 billion to the program over a 10-year period, in order to raise the maximum grant amount to its current level. House Republicans have proposed to cut the maximum Pell Grant award by 15 percent, down to $4,705.
At UC Davis, 9,175 students — approximately 37 percent of the undergraduate population — received a Pell Grant in 2009-2010, including 3,882 students who received a grant during summer.
Since summer 2010 was the first-year students were eligible to receive Pell Grants for summer, the UC Davis financial aid office said it was too soon to tell its long-term effects on graduation rates, among other things.
“The number of students attending summer has remained fairly consistent with or without the [summer] Pell award. So, presumably, students will still take advantage of attending summer classes. As in the past, before Pell summer funding was available, students will need to pay their fees by working, taking out a loan or adjusting their lifestyle to reduce expenses,” said Joyce Cleaver, a representative of the UC Davis financial aid office, in an e-mail statement.
Cleaver also added that in the case of reduction of Pell Grants, UC will be unlikely to supplement the aid.
Kenna Smith, a junior microbiology major and a student assistant to the analyst at the financial aid office, said a Pell Grant would be the worst grant to cut.
“It’s a grant that’s there if you have financial need and that’s not something you can find in a lot of other grants. It comes from the federal government and you don’t have to repay it, which is huge,” she said.
Pell Grants are the primary source of federal aid for low-income students. The Department of Education expects the demand for Pell Grants to reach 9.6 million students next year, compared to 6 million in 2008.
In addition, since 2008 the average Pell Grant increased 39 percent, from $2,970 to $4,115, doubling the total expenditures for the program in just three years.
Senior microbiology major Ryan Morrow said most of his schooling is paid for by grants and loans.
“[A change in Pell Grants] wouldn’t affect me as much because I’m graduating, but before it would have either significantly increased the amount I need to take out in loans, or I would have had to drop out of school,” Morrow said. “My little brother is still a student, so that would definitely affect him.”
Under Obama’s proposed budget, the Education Department budget would increase overall by 4.3 percent in 2012. The majority of programs would be sustained.
Among the programs that the budget would cut are the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, which matches funds to states to encourage need-based financial aid, and the Byrd Honors Scholarships.
MELISSA FREEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.