Pell Grant effects not expected in AlabamaBy Jon Vincent | 01/16/2013 11:00pm
Recent changes to Pell Grant requirements have caused a decrease in enrollment at Mississippi community colleges, but similar effects are not expected in the state of Alabama.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 changed requirements in such a way that families now have to earn 25 percent less in a year to be eligible for the grant, and it also decreased the number of semesters the grant could be renewed. Pell Grants give low-income students up to $5,500 a year to assist them in paying for their college education.
These new restrictions have had noticeable affects in neighboring states. The recent Education Policy Center study found that recent changes to Pell Grant eligibility led to drops in enrollment at 14 of the 15 community colleges in Mississippi.
“The significance of our statewide study of community college students in Mississippi was to show how very sensitive to price changes low-income students are—as soon as Pell eligibility restrictions were enacted, 3,000 students dis-enrolled statewide,” Steven Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center, said.
He said they looked into whether these students who dropped out because of lack of Pell Grant funding will ever return to complete their degrees and how their choice to not return will affect Mississippi’s economy.
“As our leaders in Washington consider methods by which to reduce the federal deficit, it must be recognized that it won’t get done on the backs of poor college students,” Katsina said.
Helen Allen, director of student financial aid, is not overly concerned about the consequences of the changed rules at The University of Alabama.
“The effect of the new requirement will have both a positive and a negative impact. The positive effect is that it gives students incentive to complete their degrees as quickly as possible, which will also limit loan indebtedness upon graduation. The negative effect is that students who have, for whatever reason, not completed their degree requirements in 6 years of full-time attendance will no longer receive Federal Pell Grant funds,” Allen said.
Despite the new restrictions, the number of Pell Grant recipients has increased in recent years, both nationally and statewide. Since 2008, Pell Grant use has increased by 50 percent nationally and 60 percent in Alabama. Over the same time period, Alabama Pell Grant funding has increased by more than $300 million, according to a recent University of Alabama study by the Education Policy Center, a research group based out of the University’s College of Education.
Regardless of the final impact of these new restrictions, current Pell Grant recipients are thankful for the extra help. Last semester, nearly 5,800 UA students received Pell Grants.
Danielle Sahud, a freshman majoring in communicative disorders, is one of them.
“The generous scholarships from The University of Alabama along with my Pell Grant allow me to attend The University of Alabama without incurring excessive loans,” Sahud said.
Sahud said with the economic downturn, her parents no longer had the financial ability to help with all of the high costs of a college education.
“Without the Pell Grant, which covers some of my living expenses, I would have attended a different school where my out-of-pocket costs would have been lower,” she said. “I am thankful for my Pell. Without it, I wouldn’t be part of the Crimson Tide.”