Increase in Pell Grants causes concerns

By Cara Bidwell

Educators are concerned President George Bush’s proposal to raise the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,400 over the next five years will come at the cost of cuts to other financial aid programs.

President Bush’s 2008 budget plan comes in the wake of last Wednesday’s vote by the House of Representatives to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $260 from $4,050 to $4,310 for 2007.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced Bush wants to raise the grant by another $290 in 2008 to bring it to a total of $4,600, then gradually raise the grant to $5,400 over the course of the next five years.

The Pell Grant is the primary tool used by the federal government to provide low-income and middle-income students with the financial aid needed to go to college.

Seamus Harreys, Northeastern’s dean of student financial services, applauded the new focus and commitment to improving the Pell Grant, but questioned where the money for Bush’s plan will come from.

“Bush’s proposal would take away from other sources of funding,” Harreys said. He said he believes money will be taken from the Perkins Loan Fund and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program to finance the increase in Pell Grants.

Harreys’ concerns are similar to that of Luke Swarthout, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group higher education advocate.

“Provided that the administration is not robbing Peter to pay ‘Pell,’ this could be a very meaningful increase for low-income students all across the country,” Swarthout told the Associated Press Thursday.

Last week’s vote by the House represented the first increase to the grant in five years and the largest Pell Grant increase in three decades. The combination of the rising cost of college and the stagnation of the Pell Grant over the last couple of years forced some students to work more hours and take out larger loans to pay for college, according to a statement by Swarthout.

“There’s been a lot of other competing issues,” Harreys said about the neglect of the Pell Grant before last week. He said the controversy over prescription drugs, the war in Iraq and other military expenditures had taken attention away from grants.

Although questions remain about where the funding for Bush’s proposal will come from, it is at least, as Harreys said it could still be positive and, “something that is committing to the future of the United States.”

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