Canceling Summer Pell Grant shows urgent need for federal aid

Anna Bellegante

With the cost of tuition increasing, it comes as no surprise that more and more students are in need of financial assistance to achieve their educational goals. With the cancellation of the Federal Summer Pell Grant, however, the need for aid has become even more urgent. 

Pell Grants are awarded to low-income undergraduate students pursuing higher education. The amount of the grant is determined by FAFSA, among other factors, but the maximum award is currently $5,550. According to the Federal Student Aid website, Pell Grants serve as the foundation of federal financial aid, to which aid from other sources, either federal or nonfederal, might be added. 

 The article “Pell Grants and the Lifting of Rural America’s Future” published by several university professors and associate professors, including two from Iowa State, mentions the maximum Pell Grant award paid for 72 percent of college costs in 1976. Today, it covers only a third of college costs. 

 Before the new Summer Pell Grant, students who wished to take summer courses had to use the money that had been awarded to them during the academic school year, if any was left over. With the new Summer Pell Grant, first implemented in the summer of 2010, students qualifying for the maximum award of $5,550 during the school year could receive up to $2,675 in financial aid for the summer.

Despite the record enrollment in summer courses at community colleges in 2010 produced by the new Summer Pell Grant, President Barack Obama proposed in February 2011 to eliminate the Summer Pell Grant in order to close the $5 billion gap in Pell Grant funding for the 2012 fiscal year. 

Linda Hagedorn, Iowa State’s associate dean in the department of eduational leadership and policy studies and co-author of the article mentioned above, expressed that the cancellation of the Summer Pell Grant may have some serious implications for students, including increasing student debt and postponing graduation.

In regards to enrollment, employment and internship opportunities, Hagedorn said, “There may be some indirect repercussions, but those are the kind of things that are really difficult to measure.” 

Roberta Johnson, director of financial aid at Iowa State, agreed that it is too early and difficult to measure the effects the cancellation of the Summer Pell Grant may have on students. Since the Summer Pell Grant was in place for only two summers, there may not be dramatic implications. 

“[Canceling the Summer Pell Grant] was a return to a previous policy, so we did not have enough history with the new policy to completely evaluate [the effects],” Johnson said.

However, Johnson went on to say that the evaluations of the Year Round Pell, which enabled students to receive two financial aid awards in the same academic school year, showed that those students were borrowing less money, thus minimizing their debt. 

The cost of tuition and room and board is rising on a national scale along with unemployment, while federal aid is decreasing. Hagedorn expressed her concerns for the future of education in the United States but remains hopeful.

“I certainly hope that we continue to be able to award worthy students the opportunity to come to Iowa State and other institutions. It’s a very urgent need.”