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Funding bill would change Pell eligibility

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​Republican appropriators in the House appear willing to keep the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 for fiscal year 2012, but they want to rein in eligibility in order to cut program costs as they look to trim overall federal spending.

The most significant change in eligibility for community college students would be a requirement that students receiving a Pell Grant or any other federal student aid must have a high school diploma, GED or completed a homeschooling program, according to an omnibus spending bill introduced late Wednesday night. Currently, students applying for Pell Grants who don’t have such proof of graduation are required to take an “ability-to-benefit” (ATB) test to show that they can do college-level work.

About 1 percent of community college students—roughly 100,000 total—are ATB students, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

“That’s a major disappointment,” David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at AACC, said of the proposed change to ATB.

Dropping ATB students from student aid eligibility at all postsecondary institutions would save about $268 million over the first year.

The proposal to eliminate ATB may be a result of lawmakers trying to curb financial aid for students attending for-profit institutions, according to education advocates. About 3 percent of proprietary school students are ATB students. Congress has focused on for-profits as an increasing number of their students are ridden with high student loan debt.

Other proposed changes

H.R. 3671 would also make these changes to Pell eligibility:

  • Limit the grants per students from 18 semesters to 12 semesters (six years)
  • Slightly increase the minimum Pell award
  • Reduce the income level below which a student would automatically receive the Pell maximum from $30,000 to $23,000

Overall, the changes would trim $11 billion over 10 years, according to an outline of the bill from House Republicans, which noted the “common-sense reforms” would ensure the program’s financial stability.

An increase in Pell-eligible students enrolling in community college and other higher education institutions over the past several years has resulted in a shortfall of federal funding to pay for the program.

Cuts in job training

The bill also outlined proposed spending for federal job training programs. Overall, programs run by the U.S. Labor Department’s Employment Training Administration would receive $10.7 billion, which is $68 million less than in FY11. The Workforce Investment Act Grants to State program would receive $2.6 billion—a $180-million cut.

One program that would see an increase is the Veterans Employment and Training Services program. It would receive $265 million, an increase of $9.3 million.