In The Public Interest: Pell Grant Cut Would Lead to Massive Financial Aid Disruptions

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The Huffington Post
By: Rich Williams
April 6, 2011

Millions of high school seniors who earlier this year experienced the joy of opening a college acceptance letter might soon be devastated to receive another letter, courtesy of their representatives in Congress, that cuts their financial aid days before the enrollment deadline.

As Congress continues to debate a long-term budget plan for FY11, a proposed $5.7 billion cut to Pell Grant funding is still on the table. Beyond the dollars and cents, cutting Pell Grants has real consequences.

In December of 2010, Congress passed a budget that funds Pell Grants for student with the most need at $5,550. The Pell Grant program is the country's cornerstone financial aid program, providing scholarship aid to 9.4 million low and moderate-income students a year.

Since February 1st, financial aid offices across the country have been mailing out financial aid estimates to students and families so they can begin to budget for their education and plan for the upcoming year. Polling done by U.S. PIRG showed 9 out of the 10 largest 4-year public colleges have already sent financial aid package estimates for families to begin planning.

New students must declare their plans by May 1st, an almost unattainable deadline if a proposal to cut Pell Grants is realized.

A cut to Pell Grants this late in the award and enrollment process would upend the entire financial aid process for millions of families, causing widespread disruption as financial aid offices are forced to notify millions of families about cuts made by Congress.

It's not just limited to college administrators either. High school counselors helping their graduating seniors plan for college know reductions in aid with so little time left in the school year spells serious consequences. Late notification prevents counselors from helping families work through the tough financing decisions they face. Families with unsteady incomes, or who don't have much financially flexibility need the most time to thoroughly plan out their expenses.

Worse, many students have made decisions where to attend next year, turning down other schools. Some will have few places to turn if they are priced out of the college they selected because of Pell cuts.

Congress is expected to reach a deal on a long-term budget proposal this week. This budget proposal will be based, in part, on the House-passed spending proposal from earlier this year that cut Pell Grants by $5.7 billion, a $845 cut to the maximum award for the students with the most need. Doing so would be a grave mistake that would throw the budgets of millions of current and prospective college students into a tailspin.

To see examples of financial aid packages and the impacts of proposed cuts on students by region and income level, click here.

Follow Rich Williams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/higheredpirg

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