As a result of the spending cuts brought about by the debt ceiling crisis, many student aid programs ran the risk of being cut, including the federal Pell Grants.
“As happens in every federal budget cycle, all of the federal student aid programs come under scrutiny. Early this August, however, federal Pell Grant allocations were again protected from being cut,” Director of Financial Aid Laura Talbot said.
The Pell Grant provides a maximum of $5,550 of support to students every year.
According to Peter Gross ’13, president of the Swarthmore College Democrats, Pell Grants ran the risk of being cut three times over the summer, and in some instances certain Pell Grant areas were cut, such as the Summer Pell Grant program.
Gross went with a group of eight Swarthmore Democrats to lobby for Pell Grant funding this summer. They tried to speak with Senators Casey and Toomy, and Congressman Meehan, along with former Swarthmore professors and alumni.
There were also intentions to lower the Pell Grant to a maximum of about $4,000, which would save an estimated $1.7 billion, as Gross explained.
“What they wound up doing instead was they cut the graduate program equivalent of that. They decided to … cut that in order to reserve Pell Grant funding,” Gross said.
As a result, for this school year Pell Grant funding will remain as it has for undergraduate students.
Pell Grants play a rather significant role in Swarthmore financial aid, according to Talbot. This year and last year, 15% of Swarthmore students received financial help from the Pell Grants. That translates to federal Pell Grants providing about three percent of the total needed by aided students.
However, even with Pell Grant support staying as it has, the economic situation has still called for more support on behalf of Swarthmore financial aid. According to Talbot, there has been an 11% increase in Swarthmore Scholarship support due to the national recession. “Since most of our aided students’ financial needs increased but federal support did not, we did as we have always done: we increased our Swarthmore Scholarship support to our students,” Talbot said.
According to Talbot, 5% of a students’ need is covered by federal, state, foundation and community programs. With numbers this significant, even a cut down to $4000 would be, as Gross said, “a pretty significant cut.”
Although Pell Grants are not significantly affecting Swarthmore students now, the constant threats to the lowering of funds still proves potentially detrimental on a larger scale beyond Swarthmore.
“Education is one of the fundamental building blocks of the economy. We go to a school that has a very generous financial aid offering, but Pell Grants are an integral part of funding for higher education for millions and millions of poorer and middle class Americans,” Gross said.
According to Gross, there even exists the possibility that students may not even choose to consider college because of price alone, “You have students going into debt in order to finish college; you have students that can’t finish college because they just simply can’t pay for it; you have students that don’t even try to get into college ‘cause they don’t have the ability to pay for it to begin with.”
However, currently, Swarthmore and Swarthmore Admissions do not seem all too disturbed by these financial threats.
“We haven’t been that affected … It hasn’t affected enrollment … this year,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jim Bock.
Beyond Swarthmore, however, the threat proves to be much larger, according to Gross.
“Swarthmore is sort of an exception to the rule of Pell Grants because Swarthmore is an incredibly expensive place to go to college,” Gross said.
At other schools, however, where tuition is significantly lower, so is the amount of financial aid that is offered. As a result, Pell Grants go on to fund a much larger portion of a student’s education.
“I don’t think the immediate life at Swarthmore would change all that much if [the Pell Grant] were … less, but at a lot of Swarthmore’s peer institutions it would change a significant amount. So in the world of higher education there’d be a much larger change,” Gross said.
Peter Gross is a columnist for The Phoenix. He had no role in the production of this article.