UM weathers Pell Grant cuts

Posted on Jan 24 2013 - 11:12pm by Lacey Russell

For many students, the difference between going to college and working after high school can depend on the Federal Pell Grant Program.

University of Mississippi freshman David Miller of Clinton is grateful for the program. He is the youngest of three in a family in which the mother is the sole financial provider.

Miller said he knew that if he wanted an education, he was going to have to figure out how to pay his own way.

“I think I would have figured something out, but I don’t know if I’d have been able to come straight to a university,” Miller said. “I would have had to work for a bit or go to a community college first.”

Congress made cuts to the Federal Pell Grant Program in December 2011, and the cuts went into effect July 2012.

Following these cuts, there was a decrease in enrollment in most of Mississippi’s community colleges, according to a University of Alabama study.

The effects of the cuts include a limit to the number of semesters that a student can be on Pell Grants and include a decrease of the threshold income for receiving a fully-funded Pell Grant from $30,000 to $23,000.

UM Financial Aid Director Laura Diven-Brown said the new regulations have not affected the number of students receiving Pell Grants at Ole Miss.

During the 2011-12 school year, 5,281 students were awarded $22,158,355 in Pell Grant funding, and Diven-Brown said the Office of Financial Aid was on pace to match the number of students. She also said she did not yet have a complete number for total money received by students because students are still able to fill out the form and receive the grant.

Diven-Brown said the new lifetime limit of approximately six years, or more than 190 hours, has affected some transfer students, but that she has found that students who started at Ole Miss have not had problems.

“We have had issues with people who have attended multiple colleges, changed majors, did not do well or were non-traditional students,” Diven-Brown said.

“A lot of them did not know that this was going to come, and they cannot change the past.”

Diven-Brown said more than 700 admitted students were flagged as at, near or having exceeded these limits. Of the ones she looked at, she said many would graduate this year and never have any problems with their Pell Grants.

Another problem the financial office faced was the fact that financial aid award notifications go out in April, and these changes did not occur until summer. When the changes went into effect, Diven-Brown and her staff had to reduce or take away some offers.

“This is nothing you would want to do, but we could not change when the notes went out,” she said.

Pell Grants not equalling the cost of attending a university creates yet another issue. According to a study done by The Education Trust in 2011, a Pell Grant has not kept pace with the cost of attendance. On average, in 1980, a Pell Grant covered 99 percent of a community college’s cost of attendance and 77 percent of that of a public four-year university.

In 2011, a Pell Grant only covered 62 percent of the cost of attendance at community colleges and 36 percent of that of a four-year university.

“We are a fairly low-cost public institution, but it does not cover all of tuition, and you have got to have books, supplies and allowances,” Diven-Brown said. “The buying power of the Pell Grant has diminished over time, and I would like to see it keep pace with the cost of college.”

Diven-Brown said cuts were not likely for the upcoming year and that her staff was doing a good job with the resources it has.

“I feel good — it is managed well on our campus,” she said. “We will be working more closely with transfer students and help explain funding options. They may qualify for work study, and of course there are loans.”

Even though the Pell Grant is not what it once was, Miller said he was still glad to have it.

“Last semester, it played a really big part,” Miller said. “I ended up having finals backed up with speeches for competition. If I would have had to work, there would have been no way I could have gotten everything turned in on time.”