College Grants Decline as Tuitions Increase
> 11/1/2006 9:48:48 AM

In a development that can only lead to more financial difficulty for low-income students, the College Board announced last week that total funding for Pell Grants, as well as average benefits per recipient, fell in 2005-6 for the first time in six years. During the same period, average tuition rose by 35 percent, a rate that outpaced inflation by a considerable margin. In their annual review of college costs and financial aid, the Board stated that, though general federal aid increased by 3.7 percent last year, this number failed to meet current levels of inflation, meaning that, once again, small increases in college aid were insufficient to counter steadily rising prices.

Pell Grants are federally funded financial aid packages, not loans: students who receive them are not required to pay them back. In order to qualify for these grants, students must submit an application which is then used to determine their level of need under guidelines set by Congress. In 2004, Congress voted for stricter requirements in judging potential recipients, the result being fewer grants awarded and less money for those who received them. These changes operated on the assumption that families are relatively wealthier now than they have been in the past - but many college officials disagree. Along with these benefit reductions, private loans for school increased by nearly 27 percent each year during the same period, meaning more students are turning to outside sources for financial help.

The most obvious consequence of these developments will be higher levels of debt for current students - and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Some argue that Pell Grants are simply gratuitious federal giveaways, and that the overall yearly total of 12.7 billion is a more-than-sufficient gift to middle and lower-income students. But if our government is truly committed to making college education available to a greater number of young Americans, one has to wonder why they choose to pass legislation that ultimately increases the financial burden laid on those who can least afford it.

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