Web UpdateBill would freeze Pell money

Nick Petersen (FS View)

Students who receive federal grants and loans might have to seek additional ways to cover rising tuition costs if a bill approved by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee becomes law.

The bill would leave the maximum amount awarded for a Pell Grant unchanged at $4,050.

“(The House committee is) basically saying maintain (the maximum amount) even though the cost of education continues to rise,” said Cathy Wilcox, the associate director of University of Iowa Student Financial Aid. “If it doesn’t increase, the institution or students themselves will have to come up with the additional money.”

The Pell Grant offers students money based on financial need, which the government determines by applying national standards. Wilcox said Pell Grants are usually a base for students with numerous sources of financial aid. The amounts given to the more than 3,000 UI students who receive Pell Grants each academic year range from $400 to $4,050.

“Those grants go to the neediest students,” said Derek Willard, the special assistant to the president for UI Governmental Relations. “They are the safety net for low-income students wanting to get a university education.”

Wilcox said her office would prefer to have more federal grant money for students, but she added that federal funding cuts are not new and that students will have to find other sources to tap for their tuition.

“Clearly, having funds to (attend college) has a critical bearing, but I’ve always said, ‘How bad do you want that education?'” she said. “Students and parents have to take on that liability.”

She said that students receiving financial aid commonly pay their college bills with loans, in addition to grants.

UI senior Cara Hein is one such student. Her parents’ salaries were high enough that she did not qualify for need-based grants, but she has to fully fund her own education by working at the UI Hospitals and Clinics Center for Disabilities and Development and taking out a Stafford Loan. She said any cuts in federal education funding could be devastating because she is responsible for paying her bills.

In the 2002-03 academic year, 18,523 UI students took advantage of the federally subsidized Stafford Loan Program, which works like a classic loan, and 3,325 UI students used the Perkins Loan Program, which uses payments from former program participants to fund, Willard said.

While Wilcox said less government funding leaves students to decide how much debt they are willing to carry, she noticed another implication.

“You have to ask congressional representatives if they are interested in having a more educated population,” she said. “This clearly says what their priorities are.”

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