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House looks at cutting Pell grants

The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed changes that could affect about 9,500 college students in Minnesota and even more nationally.

They are proposing changes to the Pell grant, which could eliminate that source of financial aid for many students. The Minnesota State University Student Association, including the MSUM chapter, is working to lobby against the Pell Grant changes proposed for fiscal year 2012.

If the proposed changes are enacted, approximately 9,500 Minnesota students would be cut from the Pell grant, said Thom Beneke, public relations specialist for MSUM’s chapter of MSUSA.

The Pell grant is a federal financial aid program that provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students.

Some of the changes include cutting the number of years students are eligible for the grant and changing the criteria for eligibility, Beneke said.

“They’re looking at changing what students are actually eligible for – how much they’re eligible to receive,” he said.

According to the department of education website, the maximum Pell grant for award year 2011-2012 is $5,550. In the bill proposing changes, found at the House of Representatives website, the maximum would be $4,860 for award year 2012-2013.

“It’ll also impact students that work,” Beneke said. “They’re looking at changing it so that when a student does work and so that when a student is working during school, that’s going to count against them for how much they can actually receive in Pell grants. And so what would happen is that students that work a certain amount of hours every week would potentially be getting cut from the program.”

The Pell grant has proven to be helpful to students who have received it in the past.

Junior Patrick Wellin received a Pell grant during his first two years of school, but not this year. He assumes he was withdrawn from the program because of changes in his parents’ incomes.

“I’m in a position in which so many other students could be in, if (these changes to the Pell grant) go into effect,” Wellin said.

He has felt the difference between having the Pell grant, and being cut from the program.

“There is some more stress over having to compensate for the lack of the Pell grant,” Wellin said. “Some things are becoming more difficult to do, even things like buying bus tickets to the Cities to go see my mom.”

MSUSA, an independent nonprofit funded by student fees, is fighting the proposed changes.

Last week they supported a petition against the changes. As of Nov. 1, the petition had 1,964 signatures. Eight hundred and seventy-nine of those signatures were from MSUM students. Students can sign the petition at msusa.org.

“The petition’s going to be used as a list of supporters,” Beneke said. Some student members and adult professionals who work with MSUSA are planning to travel to Washington D.C. to talk with the legislators, Beneke said.



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