Pell Grants not keeping up with rising education costs

By Megan McNamara

The Pell Grant, a need-based award given to undergraduate students who struggle to afford college by the Department of Education, can make a difference in a student’s educational experience; the student may not have to work as much to cover tuition costs and may be able to devote more time to their studies.

However, the grant has not kept up with the rising costs of education.

“It helps out a lot for a lot of students,” said Natasha Kang, junior in LAS and part-time financial aid counselor for the Office of Student Financial Aid. “But it would be nice if we could offer it to a greater number of students. It just all depends on what we get from the government.”

The Pell Grant covers part of either tuition or housing fees, said Dan Mann, director of Financial Aid for the Office of Student Financial Aid.

“The Pell Grant increase does not keep up with the rising costs of living. Some years there’s been no increase,” said Bob Andersen, senior associate director of the Office of Student Financial Aid. “On average here for the last few years it’s pretty much been at the same level.”

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According to the Department of Education Web site, tuition continues to outpace inflation, health care costs and family income levels. While funding for the Pell Grant has increased nearly 50 percent over the past five years, a bipartisan commission created by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings found that the financial aid system remains in urgent need of reform.

Some people feel that the government has not been cooperative and has failed to make education a priority in the last several years.

“(Spending on) education is kind of on the back burner now because of the war,” Andersen said. “The political will is not there yet, but we have to push it, and it’s gonna take a lot of lobbying.”

Andersen said that it is essential for education to take priority in policy making, as educating youth is an investment in our nation’s future.

“Students are now getting more loans than grants, on average,” Andersen said.

This translates into more debt for students out of college. Students receiving federal loans may be paying four to six percent interest rates over the life of the loan, Andersen said.

“There were times over the last couple of years where it was under four percent, but this last July, they bumped up interest rates,” Andersen said.

The Pell Grant is not received by many students at the University. Mann said the University has the lowest percentage for Pell Grants received by students at public universities in the state of Illinois.

During the 2003-2004 school year, only 18 percent (or about 4000) of students at the University were the recipients of Pell Grants, which translates into the lowest percentage among state schools in Illinois, Mann said.

At schools such as Chicago State University, 75 percent of students received Pell Grants during the 2003-2004 school year, he said.

One explanation for this is that many poorer students do not apply to the University because it is so expensive compared to other Illinois public universities, Andersen said.