Understanding Obama's Pell Grant Revisions

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Discover how the new Pell Grant might help you pay for your college education.

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Pell Grant rules, eligibility and maximum award amount are constantly evolving to meet the needs of the modern student. Among other things, the Obama administration’s Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) created March 30, 2010, made revisions to Pell Grant eligibility and standards.

Students can apply for a Pell Grant through filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This process has been recently simplified by changing the traditional six page form that was filled with redundant questions to allowing the user to answer questions that are solely relevant to their situation.

Pell Grants are unique in that they do not need to be repaid; it’s essentially free money. Although the amount of potential recipients has increased, some opponents of the act claim that it still does not cover enough people.

Pell Grant Awards

Beginning July 1, 2010, there was an increase from $5,350 to $5,500 per semester of the maximum Pell Grant award that one might receive. Recently, that figure has jumped another $50 to a total of $5,550 per semester. This means that low-income students with high grades have a chance to receive up to $11,100 for the entire school year, though the average student will receive about $3,865.

An important new change includes an increase in the adjusted family income to $50,000. It has also increased the maximum amount of Expected Family Contributions (EFC) from $4,617 to $5,273. These numbers may not seem that significant, but take into consideration that they will open up eligibility for approximately 8.4 million students, 617,000 more students than the previous year.

Two decades ago, the Pell Grant award covered up to 55 percent of a college tuition, compared to the 32 percent today. The Obama administration recognizes the need for change, and has vowed to increase the maximum award amount each year to correlate with the rising cost of education inflation. As a result, the Obama administration promises to add tens of billions of dollars to the Pell Grant fund through the next decade.

Additional Pell Grant Modifications

Other modifications to the grant include the elimination of minimum enrollment hours that a student has to complete in order to apply to a Pell Grant. It used to be that you had to take a full course load each semester to receive a Pell Grant and now any student may apply, no matter how large or small the course load. This is important for those, such as single mothers, who find it necessary to remain working while pursuing a degree.

There is also no longer a requirement for which semester the Pell Grant applies to. Students are now able to use their Pell Grant award towards every semester that they are enrolled. This includes summer semester and schools that have a non-traditional semester format.

Lastly, it is a new policy to allow parents or students paying their own college tuition to apply for a Pell Grant during the school year if they are suddenly laid off. This is appealing to parents, as job security is a common anxiety among people in today's economic instability.



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