Pell Grant proposal would affect over 40 percent of UC students

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If a Republican proposal to cut federal Pell Grant funding by billions of dollars passes in the U.S. Senate Friday, the more than 40 percent of UC students who depend on the program to finance their education will receive significantly less in financial aid next year.

The proposal, which passed through the House of Representatives on Feb. 19, would implement a $5.7 billion cut to the Pell Grant program for the 2012-13 academic year, bringing the maximum award amount to $4,705 - down from the current amount of $5,550, according to Roberta Johnson, associate director of financial aid at UC Berkeley. Additionally, the proposal includes cuts that would reduce the maximum grant amount for all Pell Grant recipients and eliminate eligibility for some currently receiving a less-than-maximum Pell Grant in the 2011-12 academic year.

"Most of the Pell Grants have already been awarded for the fall, and we are fighting the notion that it will change from fiscal year 2011-12," said Nancy Coolidge, coordinator of government relations at the UC Office of the President.

The Republican Party's proposal, which would represent the largest cut in the program's history, comes in direct contradiction to President Barack Obama's original March 2009 plan to augment the program, which would have made all students eligible to receive $500 more in Pell Grant aid each year.

Next week, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the California delegation to express his concern regarding the proposal, according to Johnson.

"In terms of current funding, there is a tenuous stalemate on Capitol Hill," Johnson said. "But full funding of the Pell Grant program is one of UC Berkeley's top funding priorities."

UC Riverside would be one of the campuses most affected by the proposal, with 57 percent of its student population dependent on Pell Grant funding.

"That would be a severe blow to the university in general and our campus in particular because I would expect a very large demand for Pell Grants in the future," said Sheryl Hayes, the director of financial aid at UC Riverside. "It is a challenge for the university to meet needs of students, and this reduction in federal funds falls back on the university to assist students."

Currently, 65,000 UC students are eligible to apply for Pell Grants twice a year, and the application process determines their award amount for the fall, spring and summer semesters. However, if the proposal passes, students would be able to apply only once a year, eliminating the opportunity to receive grants for the summer.

"I've been receiving Pell Grants for two semesters so far, but I have other scholarships," said UC Berkeley freshman Sandra Luna, who said she plans to take summer classes this year that would be funded by her Pell Grants.

Although there is an understanding that the summer program will continue in 2011, it is likely that it will no longer be available in the summer of 2012, according to Johnson.

In addition, UC students have been actively lobbying state and federal officials to prevent the cuts.

Claudia Magana, president of the University of California Student Association and a student at UC Santa Cruz, lobbied several legislators on Capitol Hill over spring break to protect Pell Grants and express student support for them.

Though UC students do not rely exclusively on federal funds to finance their education, several students said Pell Grant reductions would put them at a disadvantage.

"I think it is really unfortunate and that it is putting many students from low-income backgrounds in really difficult positions trying to balance everything," said UC Berkeley senior Michelle Kim.


Contact Anjuli Sastry at [email protected]

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