Future of Pell Grants at risk if budget cuts made

The Federal Pell Grant program will likely not be affected by the fiscal cliff this year, but the future of the program remains uncertain.

Pell grants, which provide funding for approximately 9.4 million students nationwide, are typically awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained a bachelor's or professional degree. Unlike loans, Pell grants do not have to be repaid. The fiscal cliff is a year-end $500 billion combination of mandatory spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect in January, and, because of this, unless a solution is found, the future of Pell Grants and other forms of student funding is uncertain.

As the year ends, politicians will work to determine what federal programs will be affected by the expected cuts and tax increases as part of the fiscal cliff and what will not.

Penny Ervin, assistant director of financial aid, said Pell Grants are federal grants that can be applied for through the student's FAFSA and are automatically applied to the student based on credit hours and their Expected Family Contribution.

"There was a decrease in the EFC last year, which is the cut off for which students are eligible to receive Pell Grants," Ervin said.

Ervin said students at CMU are eligible to apply for a Pell Grant if their EFC is $4,995 or less or if they have not received a Pell Grant for more than the equivalent of 12 full-time semesters. They also must be an undergraduate and have not received a bachelor's degree.

Pell Grants are protected for the year but face a $5.7-billion decrease for the 2014 fiscal year that could put them at risk for the future.

"(Pell Grants) are based on what the government wants to do," Ervin said. "We don't know yet how they will be affected."

Next year, Congress takes up the Higher Education Act of 1965 for reauthorization. The act is a federal legislation that oversees student aid programs, like Pell Grants.

Congress could choose to focus on the whole act or parts of it, which could cause program cuts to the maximum amount of aid given or the number of students who can receive Pell Grants.


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