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Advocates of Pell React to Uncertainty and Talk of More Cuts

There is a lot of angst among potential Pell Grant recipients and colleges as the fate of the federal student aid program hangs in the air for this year—as well as 2012, it now appears.

Yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, released a proposed outline of a fiscal year 2012 budget that would cut Pell Grants back to 2008 levels. The program got a total of $14.2 billion back then, compared to $23.1 billion now. How that would affect the maximum grant of $5,550 now is unclear. (See Politics K-12 for more details.)

Regardless of whether the proposal to slash funding to its 2008 level targets the maximum grant or funding for the entire program, the result would be "a devastating blow to financially challenged students and families," the Student Aid Alliance, a coalition of 62 higher education organizations defending federal student aid programs, said in a statement issued yesterday.

"Proposals to reduce the cost of the Pell Grant Program should be driven by economic need and rational analysis rather than ideology. The magnitude of the Pell Grant cuts contained in the House budget proposal simply fails that test," the statement said.

The alliance maintains that demand for federal aid is up because of the economic downturn and reductions in state support make federal financial aid even more critical for the nine million students who receive Pell Grant funding. "The federal deficit should not be balanced on the backs of low-income students," the Alliance maintains.

Also yesterday, the student advocacy group U.S. PIRG issued a statement criticizing Congress for continued wrangling over this year's federal budget and leaving Pell funding limbo. Dragging out the debate this late into the spring makes it difficult for students who are trying to make plans for college next year.

"A cut to Pell Grants this late in the award and enrollment process would upend the entire financial aid process for millions of families, causing widespread disruption as financial aid offices notify millions of families about the changes made by Congress," the PIRG statement said.

For more on the Pell Grant funding debate, see yesterday's blog, and for a big picture of the program, go to this story.

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