Add this to Congress’s year-end to-do list: Dealing with a potential $5.7 billion gap in grants for low-income students.
Federal Pell grants are a form of need-based aid typically given to low-income students. As part of student loan legislation passed in March, the amount of money that students can receive from a Pell grant maxes out at $5,550 for the 2010-2011 school year, and was scheduled to be the same amount for 2011-2012.
There’s usually little political wrangling around funding for the Pell grant, but this year, lawmakers underestimated the surge in students going to college — and their financial need — helping to create the gap. Congress would need to authorize the additional billions to fully fund the program for all students who qualify for the aid. They’ve done so in the past, but the gap hasn’t ever been this large and comes in the midst of a tense political climate.
“When need-based aid like Pell grants doesn’t increase,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, “the gap between low income students and everyone else increases faster. It has a big impact.”