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Pell Grant Shortfall Addressed, at Least for the Short Run

Good news in the short run for Pell Grant recipients. Congress passed a continuing resolution Tuesday that contains $5.7 billion to retire the current Pell Grant shortfall and keeps the maximum award at the current level. The action is just a temporary solution for the program that helps lower-income students go to college, as it provides funding through March 4, 2011. With the change in leadership in the House next year, future funding for the program is unknown.

As I wrote about yesterday, more students than ever are relying on aid to fund higher education. About 65 percent of all undergraduates and 80 percent of full-time undergrads in 2007-08 had grants, loans, or work-study to make it through college. In 2003-04, the figure was just 63 percent for all students and 76 percent for those enrolled full time, according to the U.S. Department of Education report Student Funding of Undergraduate Education.

The federal Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 expanded the Pell Grant program. More grants will be available to low-income students, and the annual maximum scholarship will increase with inflation starting in 2013, climbing from the current $5,550 to an estimated $5,975 by 2017.

Pell Grant recipients numbered 7.7 million in 2009, at a cost of $28 billion. In 2010, the cost is expected to grow to $32 billion, and to $34 billion by 2011, according to the Education Department.

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