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Updated: Pell Grant funds uncertain

Updated: Pell Grant funds uncertain

Freshman Crystal Sapien relies on grant money to attend the UA and worries that a possible $800 cut to her federal Pell Grant award would make life more stressful.

“”Even though it doesn’t seem like a large amount, I’d probably have to get another loan,”” said Sapien, who studies speech and hearing sciences. “”With interest, that adds up over four years.””

Sapien is among more than 10,200 undergraduate students at the UA who could be affected by a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, according to John Nametz, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid. The resolution could reduce Pell Grants to their pre-stimulus levels.

House Resolution 38 allows the chair of the House Committee on the Budget to cut non-security spending to 2008 levels or less. The Federal Pell Grant program, which provides funding for college students based on financial need, received an additional $17.1 billion in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

Pell Grant funding for the 2010 to 2011 academic year totals more than $40 million at the UA, according to Nametz. He said loans and work programs are the largest sources of financial aid, but that Pell Grants help many students.

“”The Pell Grant is just a terribly important funding source,”” Nametz said.

The maximum award amount for a Pell Grant has increased about 28 percent since 2008 and went from $4,331 to $5,550, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The average award amount is also up about 31 percent since 2008, increasing from $2,945 to $3,865.

Sapien is a first-generation college student and receives the Pell Grant and other grants through the Arizona Assurance program. The program provides mentorship opportunities and other assistance for students who qualify for the Pell Grant.

She said she has avoided most loans due to the grant and a large change would negatively affect students.

“”I see how it helps everybody, and my life would be different without it,”” Sapien said. “”But I also see it as the economic side, and we do need that money in other places.””

The grant is especially helpful for students who are reluctant to take out loans and otherwise may not attend college, according to Nametz.

“”We won’t see them at the university or maybe not anywhere in higher education,”” he said.

These awards could be reduced under the new resolution, though they may be protected in the new budget.

“”President Obama is expected to make Pell Grants a mandatory spending program in his budget,”” said Jake Stillwell, communications director for the United States Student Association. “”Even if the freeze was instituted, the Pell Grant wouldn’t be affected.””

If Pell Grants are left unprotected in the new budget, however, funding for them could be cut.

Nametz said maintaining current award amounts is important because even minimal cuts could affect student success by reducing their ability to purchase textbooks or other necessary supplies.

“”I would hate to see it, and I hope it does not happen,”” he said.

A reduction in spending could affect higher education even if Pell Grants are left unchanged. States depend on support from the federal government to fund universities, Stillwell said.

“”Even though the resolution is toothless, states have already been cutting budgets with money from the federal government,”” he said.

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