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Pell Grants not out of the woods yet

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Budget Committee earlier this week. (Photo: Senate Budget Committee)​​​
A stopgap measure to keep the federal government running for the next two weeks would nix a federal grants program that is used to encourage states to fund their own need-based student aid programs.
 
The Senate on Wednesday passed H.J. Res. 44, which would eliminate funding for the $64 million Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships (LEAP) program, which assists low-income college students. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure. 

States—which administer the LEAP grants—awarded up to $5,000 to 161,556 individuals in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The average award was $1,000.
 
House Republicans are still eyeing bigger programs as they look to pass a permanent funding bill. Some education advocates worry the Pell Grants program may be a target. In 2008, the Pell program cost about $14 billion. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost will balloon to nearly $38 billion by 2012, without changes to the program.
 
Last month, House Republicans introduced H.R. 1, which would fund federal agencies and programs for the rest of the fiscal year. It includes more than $60 billion in proposed cuts to federal programs. Most notably, the measure would reduce the Pell Grant maximum by $845, to $4,705, for the award year that starts July 1, 2011.
 
Some college advocates say the grants are a critical investment to ensure that students are prepared for new careers and for jobs after the economy turns. In New Jersey, more than 180,000 eligible college students would not receive the grants under the GOP budget plans, according to new analysis released this week by Sen. Robert Menendez (D–N.J.).
The American Association of Community Colleges is hosting a free webinar on federal legislative issues on March 10, with a focus on the funding landscape. Click here to register.
 
During a meeting with New Jersey college students on Monday, Menendez gave Republicans an “F” for seeking cuts to Pell Grants for low and middle class families at a time when families are facing record unemployment and debt levels.
 
Officials at the Hudson County Community College, where Menendez met with students, said that while 80 percent of the student body is on financial aid, delinquency in student payment is up more than 180 percent. Enrollment this year has remained flat, but students are taking fewer hours because of difficulty securing financing.
 
That situation is similarly dire across the country. According to the Education Department, about 27 percent of college students receive Pell Grants. At the College of Sequoias in California, more than 1,300 students receive Pell Grants. The cuts would cost students at the college $660,000, Vicki Wrobel, the college’s financial aid director, told Mount Shasta Area Newspapers.
 
The cost of the Pell Grants program was the top issue for Education Secretary Arne Duncan who on Tuesday outlined before the Senate Budget Committee the Obama administration’s proposed FY 2012 budget for education. He noted the president’s budget would keep the maximum Pell Grant at $5,500, but to do so the administration would, in part, stop providing the grants year-round.
 
Since 2000, the demand for Pell Grants has increased from less than 4 million in 2000 to a projected 9.6 million in 2012, Duncan said. About 3 million of these students attend community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. ​
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