Pell Grant Amounts Increase While Recipients Drop

This story was written by Rachel Albin, Daily Nebraskan
Congress has good news and bad news for Pell Grant recipients.

The amounts that will be awarded next academic year will be higher than ever, but fewer students will get grants.

"We're in a weird situation where the number of grants will go down, but the average grant will go up," said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.com, a student aid Web site.

The maximum award will increase by $490, which makes next year's maximum award $4,371.

Jaamie Sidney, a freshman interior design student who receives the maximum Pell Grant, was glad to hear about the increase.

"That's helpful," Sidney said. "I really don't have any money to pay for school, so $500 is a plus."

Although awards will increase for some students, other students will be cut off from Pell Grants next year because the expected family contribution that determines eligibility has been lowered by $69.

Before the change, students whose families could afford to pay $4,110 toward school were previously eligible for a Pell Grant, but now the awards will go only to students whose expected family contribution (EFC) is $4,041 or less.

Kantrowitz estimates this will leave two percent of current grant recipients -- at least 100,000 students -- without Pell Grants next academic year.

These are students who received the minimum award of about $400, said Craig Munier, UNL's director of scholarships and financial aid.

About 22 UNL students fall into the group set to lose grants, he said. This number is based on last year's aid applications.

"There's not very much that can be done this late in the game to change one's (EFC)," Kantrowitz said, because family income for the prior tax year cannot be changed.

Students in danger of losing grants may be able to squeeze past the system and lower EFCs by shifting assets or deferring tax bonuses.

Though results of such tweaking will not be dramatic, tinkering with EFC calculators on aid Web sites such as FinAid could pay off for students who are on the verge of being cut off.

"Families who are on the borderline should check their EFC to see whether or not they are eligible so they can plan," Kantrowitz said.

Once ineligible for Pell Grants, these students also will be unable to receive the National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants or Academic Competitiveness Grants.

Ineligibility for Pell Grants does not bar students from scholarships and aid from the university, Munier said, but students might also need to borrow a few hundred more dollars than last year.

"The good news is that there's a lot more money for students who are eligible," he said. "The number of students who lost eligibility is very small."
© 2008 Daily Nebraskan via U-WIRE
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