May 01, 2018
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt promised to push for annual increases in Pell grants Wednesday during a meeting with regional higher education officials and students at Moberly Area Community College’s satellite location in Columbia.
Blunt, R-Mo., chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds federal higher education programs. Most federal student aid programs, including the Pell grant program for lower-income students, are due for votes this year as part of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
The maximum award will increase to $6,095 for the 2018-19 academic year, the first increase in several years, Blunt said. Last year, Congress renewed the program that provides Pell grants for attending summer classes, which Blunt said should help many students finish their degrees sooner and with less debt.
Blunt estimated that 20,000 more Missouri students would be taking classes this summer thanks to the expanded program and that number would be 1 million nationwide.
“By returning to year-round Pell, it makes it possible for people who are adults returning to school, younger people who are paying for their own education, first-time attenders who are paying for their college, it dramatically enhances the possibility they are going to graduate if you can keep whatever pattern you have found that is working, working,” Blunt said to reporters after the meeting.
The Pell program is only one of the numerous federal financial aid programs that must be renewed by Congress this year. Blunt said the budget recently approved in Congress provides a 15 percent increase in work-study spending and increases in other areas including child care.
The Pell program, however, is the biggest and most commonly used federal student aid. During the meeting, Blunt was told that 20 to 70 percent of students at the schools represented receive Pell grants.
At the University of Missouri, 5,112 students received $20.2 million in Pell grants in the current year. Financial aid director Nick Prewett said 910 students received summer grants last year, totaling $724,000 and MU expects that number to exceed 1,000 this summer.
In the fall, MU will begin covering the difference between the cost of tuition and financial aid for students who receive Pell grants and throw in free housing for high-achieving students who receive Pell grants.
To politicians who argue for free college education, Blunt said, “we already have that in Missouri” for many Pell-eligible students.
The group also discussed the relative value of federal programs to aid higher education. Scott Dalrymple, president of Columbia College, brought up the debate that took place last year over federal tax deductions for tuition and other higher education costs.
The return on a tax deduction available months after the costs of higher education is incurred isn’t a real incentive to attend school for many, he said.
“It doesn’t help the working class,” Dalrymple said. “That is a tool of the upper middle class. Pell helps people in need.”
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