Pell Grant cuts hit home for students

by Jason Staker

Senior Anita Zahs is like most college students. Majoring in biochemistry and minoring in Spanish, she’s preparing to attend medical school. And like millions of college students across the country, Zahs relies on government financial assistance to pay for her education.

“Most small colleges gave me about the same financial aid package,” Zahs said.

Included in her aid was a Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant program has recently undergone many changes which affect students who receive the grant.

The Pell Grant provides $400-$4050 to students in need of financial aid. Eligibility is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which contains a formula for calculating the Expected Family Contribution.

However, recent adjustments to the tax tables have put many students in jeopardy of reduced or lost grants.

“The tax tables haven’t been updated since around 1988,” said Tracie Pavon, assistant vice president for enrollment and financial assistance. “So, when we adjusted the tables to what is current, it made more income available for the EFC on a student basis.”

The increased EFC means many students will not receive the same funding they did in previous years. According to Pavon, once a student’s EFC reaches $301 their Pell Grant could be affected.

“Without [the Pell Grant] I possibly would have had to attend a different school,” Zahs said.

Approximately 56,600 students in Iowa receive a Pell Grant each year, totaling about $127 million in aid. At Simpson there are currently 403 students receiving grants, a number Pavon said may soon change.

“I’m estimating that potentially 277 student on our campus could see lower Pell Grants,” Pavon said. “We potentially have 20 who could totally lose it. Those 20 are receiving $400 this year and so next year they could receive nothing.”

Pavon estimated that 84,000 students will lose their Pell Grants nationally, while an additional 1.2 million will see smaller awards.

“This is huge for higher education,” Pavon said.

Though some awards may be cut, students with larger grants are guaranteed their funds.

“The very low EFC students who receive the Pell Grants won’t be affected because they are income-protected and income-sensitive,” Pavon said. “They go through a different needs analysis.”

Regardless, students are still concerned about the possibility of losing grants.

“If they are going to reduce the grant system they need to provide an alternative financial aid,” sophomore Carrie Christensen said. “It is such a large amount of money … it is pretty significant.”

Pavon believes the cuts won’t affect Simpson’s enrollment because of the relatively small amount of aid that is affected. Still, some students are bothered that the cuts were made at all.

“I think the Pell Grant system is a good system,” Zahs said. “The changes that have been made will have negative effects on some deserving students.”