Changes in college grants

Published 11:53 am Saturday, October 20, 2012

Many students in Mississippi receive some form of federal financial aid. The most common form of financial aid is the Pell Grant. These are need based grants based on the student’s family income. The United States Department of Education has a formula for determining the amount of the grant. The final legislation that gained approval this past summer included some changes that could have a significant impact on students.

The first change eliminated Ability to Benefit Students. An Ability to Benefit student is one that has not received a high school diploma or a GED but can demonstrate their ability to learn via testing or course completion. Past regulations, allowed a student that could learn at a college level to receive a Pell Grant to begin study in developmental and remedial courses. This is no longer the case. The student must have completed high school or a GED to receive an award.

A second major change is in the family income level. The maximum income allowed for a grant was lowered from $32,000 to $23,000; the Department of Education estimates that this would eliminate 12,000 students from the Pell program.

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The third change removed the number of students that can receive the minimum Pell Grant of $555. The formula allowed a student that was eligible to receive between 5% and 10% of the maximum ($5,555) could receive $555. This has been eliminated which will remove approximately 3,000 Pell recipients.

The fourth and final change reduced the number of semesters that a student can receive a grant. In the past, 18 semesters was the maximum number of full time terms a student could receive a grant. This has been reduced to 12 full time semesters. This will remove an additional 63,000 students from the program.

While understanding all of these regulatory issues can be quite confusing, luckily Pearl River Community College and Mississippi’s other colleges and universities have financial aid offices that can help students navigate the financial aid system. Possibly the most important thing for students and parents to take from this is the fourth item above. It is important that a student take courses that are applicable to a degree from an early start. While it is often tough for a young person to determine what they want to do with their future, indecisiveness and taking courses that might not pertain to a degree can be costly. Students that choose a career plan and plot out their studies well be less likely to exhaust their funds before reaching graduation. These students will be more likely to fully realize their educational goals and make their dreams a reality.