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Proposed cuts to Pell grants hurt

The House of Representatives passed on a continuing resolution Saturday, Feb. 12, that proposes cutting funding to the most needy of federal financial aid recipients.

The cuts would slash the maximum award by $845, meaning a student who is currently receiving $5,550 would see his or her aid dropped to $4,705 next year. The average cuts to the Pell award would be $785.

The proposed cuts have thus far only passed through the House, and still have to pass through the Senate before being considered for signing by President Obama, meaning there is still time for them to change.

Drake University vice president of admission and financial aid, Tom Delahunt, is one of many working to lobby against the proposed cuts.

“We’re trying to let our representative know that while we know the budgets are out of control, and that cuts have to happen, we believe education is not one of those places, especially this part of education, which is all about access,” Delahunt said. “This is something we all talk about. No matter what side of the table you sit on, we all talk about access.”

During this last academic year, more than 750 Drake students received a Pell Grant as part of their financial aid package, with the total amount of Pell Grant funding at Drake being $2.8 million.

The proposed cuts would be about 15 percent of current year funding. Students with the maximum amount wouldn’t lose all of their Pell funding, only a portion of it; but other students who only have partial scholarships could potentially lose everything.

First-year student Drew Kaufman, a partial Pell Grant student, received the grant through the health care reform, and is worried about losing the additional aid.

“It’s a significant amount, and with the cost of admission going up, it’s going to put a pinch on things,” Kaufman said.

Delahunt, along with Drake’s Director of Financial Aid Susan Ladd, is looking at all scenarios.

Because financial aid packages need to be sent out to current and prospective students in late March, Drake is currently gathering the necessary financial aid papers and Free Application for Federal Student Aids (FAFSA), and using the best estimates of experts to try to determine what the federal government is going to award each student.

“As soon as we know something factual we’ll be contacting students,” Delahunt said. “What you read in the papers now is what’s being put forth before the negotiation beings. What comes out the other end is what we have to deal with and we don’t have that yet.”

The cuts will also affect the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant program, an additional form of need-based federal aid. This would reduce the program grant to Drake by $700,000, affecting more than 450 of the most financially in need students, who are awarded between $1,000 and $1,500 in additional financial aid dollars. This is a double whammy for those who need the aid the most, as they’d lose both a portion of their Pell Grant and all of their SEOG money.

Delahunt urges affected students to meet with Ladd if these cuts make it unaffordable for them to continue going to Drake.

“There might be another program available to them, possibly loans,” Delahunt said. “For other ‘special circumstances’ — like a parent losing a job, or taking a pay cut, or something else — our counselors are able to look at your account again to see if there is any more need-based aid you can receive.”

Both Delahunt and Ladd urge all students — whether they will be affected by the proposed cuts or not — to contact their senators, congressmen and state representatives.

“I think all students, even if they aren’t Pell eligible, know how much their financial aid means to them in order to go to school. They should help campaign and support their fellow students,” Ladd said.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administration has also set up a Facebook group for students to tell their stories.

“I believe senators and representatives pay attention to personal stories because that actually makes it meaningful,” Ladd said. “I can talk in big picture numbers for our institution in general, but when someone talks about what it means to them, maybe about not being able to come back to school next year, that is something that has more weight.”

Delahunt doesn’t think the proposed cuts will affect future attendance at Drake.

“There is a reason we’re listed high up on the list of ‘best values, best buys,’ in terms of education,” Delahunt said. “Sure, we’re not as affordable as a public school is going to be. We are never going to be. We do education differently.”

Delahunt argues that there is a value judgment in choosing where one attends school. For Drake, that’s small class sizes, personalized education and chances to sit down with the vice president, advisor or professor as opposed to a teacher’s assistant.

“Everything we do is for the good of the institution, as well as the good of our students,” Delahunt said. “We’ll continue to strive to do that for our students and continue to lobby our representatives to let them know that this constituent won’t stand for any more cuts to access to higher education.”

For further information:

Office of Student Financial Planning

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