Robyn Gee on Thursday, Sep. 15th
The recent Census Bureau data on poverty is staggering: the number of people living below 50 percent of the poverty level is the highest it’s been since 1975, according to Mother Jones. President Obama and presidential candidates are putting jobs plans at the top of their lists to respond to this crisis.
One sector that noticed the increase in people affected by poverty is college financial aid. We spoke with Peter Coe, Financial Aid Specialist at City College of San Francisco, whose job only gets harder when people don’t have enough money.
Students applying for aid complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) and are allocated funds based on this document. Parents usually document their previous year’s income on their financial aid application. “I’ve definitely seen more application changes based on loss of income than in the past,” said Coe. If a parent or guardian has lost a job, then the student might be eligible for more financial aid.
Making these changes takes time. Coe said he sits down with each student individually to work through the documentation. “With this many people out of work it’s definitely a challenge to serve students,” said Coe. “It’s impacting the office… When there’s more work, there’s delays in getting money out, and the quality of service goes down,” said Coe.
A huge indicator of more financial need for Coe is the number of Pell Grants awarded every year. The Pell Grant is a federal grant of $5,500 that does not need to be repaid. It is based on financial need, the cost of attending school, and your status as a student. The more Pell awards the school gives out, means the more students are eligible for aid. Coe said the number of Pell Grants he’s awarded has increased dramatically over the last three years. “We’re approaching 11,000 Pell awards, that’s a 3,000 plus jump from the previous school year,” said Coe.
In addition to parents losing income, Coe said he sees many students losing their jobs as well, and therefore making more appeals for aid. What happens if there’s no more aid available? “Student retention is always an issue with financial aid. Of course students need to drop out all the time – financial aid – that’s always a piece of the equation,” said Coe.
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Matthew English on Tuesday, Mar. 29th
College Chronicles takes a look at the issues facing college students in the 21st century. All contributors are currently students working for their college newspapers. These are their commentaries.
By Matthew English, a senior at Virginia Tech University.
Throughout the ever-long budget debate, we have commonly heard the government asking its citizens to make sacrifices — to take cuts and reduce benefits in hopes of reclaiming financial balance. Yet, the difficulty of legislating these sacrifices is determining who and how much. These two factors are the causes of many heated debates and protests.
So, let’s talk Pell Grants. This discussion revolves around two questions: Should college students be asked to make financial sacrifices just like most other voting citizens right now? And if so, how much?
The proposed cuts, which look poised to pass in the House of Representatives, would total around $5.7 billion. With about 27 percent of college students nationwide receiving Pell Grants, that would decrease the maximum yearly grant from $5500 to $4705, a difference of $845. Additionally, about 1.7 million students who receive lower yearly grants would be ineligible for the program altogether.
As someone who receives Pell Grant money, these cuts feel like someone taking money directly out of my wallet. As most of us know, the budgets of college students are quite slim. Virginia Tech tuition, especially out-of-state, will have most of us locked down with student loans for a decade or so. Add on rent, textbooks, food and a couple too many beers downtown, and that $7.70 per hour Subway job between classes doesn’t give much leeway.
The Pell Grant money isn’t just a check. It’s a semester’s rent, a month of extra shifts, more time studying and a little less stress every time I check the bank account. It’s literally three years I won’t be paying back student loans.
For some it means even more — it’s the difference between going to college or not.
As much as I depend on this federal money, I don’t believe the college student’s financial situation garners an exemption to the sacrifices asked to the typical American family, worker or individual at this time.
As much as we don’t want to admit, or act like it, being 18 years old carries with it responsibilities and therefore the expectations of adulthood, which involves sacrifices. Preventing secondary education funding from being cut just pushes the financial burden onto some other group or demographic. One of those responsibilities of adulthood is earning and working for the things you want. In this case it’s a collegiate education.
So, should Pell Grant funding be cut? Even though it means I probably won’t qualify for a grant next year, yes.
Now, by how much?
The program shouldn’t be eliminated altogether because it allows people to go to college who wouldn’t otherwise be able to without the Pell Grant money. This cause was the founding principle of the program and should be its fundamental
The current budgetary problem with the Pell Grant program, and with most other federal spending programs, is it is bloated. Federal funding for the program has increased 400 percent over the last 10 years. This of course would be great, if the country could afford it. At one point we might have been able to, but the truth is, we cannot anymore. It’s difficult for a bloated program to be cut because it is accustomed to the excess spending.
Students who wouldn’t normally qualify for Pell Grants, like myself, received them because federal money was pumped into the system. Now that our federal budget is in a financial mess, we have to cut those programs that grew beyond their founded principles.
The Pell Grant program needs to get back to its roots and give money only to those students who wouldn’t be able to attend college without it. If we are serious about cutting spending, and we should be, then students should be asked to make the same sacrifices every other sector of our country is being asked to make right now.
Matthew English is a senior double major in Philosophy and Architecture at Virginia Tech, and has has enjoyed writing about politics for the Collegiate Times for the past year. He is currently studying Architecture and Italian abroad in a small town on the Swiss-Italy border.
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