The Pell Grant
Free Money for College
Most college bound students find it necessary to supplement their education fund with some form of loan or grant, be it public or private. The U.S. Department of Education provides a number of student loans and grants that are designed to help offset the rising costs of college tuition in the United States.
Federal student loans programs, such as the Perkins, Stafford and PLUS loans, offer students the opportunity to secure education loans at the most attractive rates and terms available. While these loans have helped millions of students to make their college dreams a reality, they do require borrowers to sign promissory notes guaranteeing the repayment of all loan moneys plus applicable interest. These loan programs regularly play a large part in helping students pay for their college tuition.
The Pell Grant, however, stands apart from any federal loan programs in that recipients are not required to repay any of the money they receive. The Pell Grant is a government award of money requiring no repayment, provided the student recipient meets program requirements and remains enrolled in college for the duration of the grant period.
What we know today as the Pell Grant, began as the Higher Education Act of 1965. Proposed by then President Lyndon Johnson and passed by Congress, the HEA provided financial aid to students from low income families who would otherwise have been unable to afford a college education. In 1972 the HEA was reformed under the oversight of Senator Claiborne Pell. The Higher Education Amendments of 1972 reauthorized the original act, while further alterations and amendments made in 1978 helped to form what we now recognize as the federal Pell Grant program. During the amendments of 1978 the program was renamed to honor the dedication of Senator Claiborne Pell in his pursuit to provide access to higher education for the nation’s low income students.
Throughout its long history, the Pell Grant has helped make pursuing a college education possible for students from low income households across the country. While changes and amendments to the federal Pell Grant program continue to this day, its purpose remains steadfast : ensuring that higher education remains accessible to all.
The Pell Grant is awarded to students who can demonstrate the requisite level of financial need. Students applying for the federal Pell Grant must first fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA process will determine the student’s Expected Family Contribution or EFC. The EFC will be determined by the full disclosure of the student’s household financial information, and is used to assess grant eligibility. If the student applicant meets the Pell Grant requirements, the award amount will be based on the following:
- the student’s EFC assessment
- whether the student is attending college or university on a full-time or half-time basis
- how much of the academic year the student will be enrolled in college or university
The Pell Grant is awarded to thousands of eligible students annually. Most recipients come from families where the annual household income falls below $25,000. Considering that a private college tuition currently averages in excess of $28,000 per year, and a public university or college tuition averages at least half that amount, the financial obstacles faced by low income college students becomes obvious. The Pell Grant exists to help students overcome these obstacles.
The federal Pell Grant Program continues to face amendments and funding cuts, but remains a prime source of college funding for low income students. Award amounts vary based on the economy and the political climate. The maximum award amount for 2012 -2013 is $5,550, although actual awards will vary depending on declared income, full or part time status and total cost of attendance.
Applying For the Pell Grant
Applications for the Pell Grant must be completed before the April deadline of each academic year. Students are encouraged to apply early, as funds are limited and are awarded on a first come, first served basis. The application process is simple, and consists of the following;
- Students applying for the Pell Grant must first fill out, and submit, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This can be done online, or applicants may download a PDF file directly from the site which can be filled out and returned by mail.
- After completing the FAFSA, applicants will receive a Student Aid Report, either electronically or by mail, within 1 to 2 weeks. The SAR will outline the student’s Expected Family Contribution, as well as the specifics of any federal student aid programs for which the student has been deemed eligible.
- Students eligible for a Pell Grant will find the amount of their award, and all relevant details, contained in the Student Aid Report. Students must respond in a timely manner to claim their Pell Grant, or risk losing the award for the year.
- Pell Grant funds will be paid directly to the student’s college or university, 2 to 4 weeks prior to the commencement of the semester. Any remaining funds not used for tuition costs will then be disbursed to the student by the school’s financial aid department.
Beyond the Pell Grant
Pell Grant recipients may also apply for other federal and private loans to help offset the cost of their college education. While the Pell Grant offers a definite leg up for low income students, it can not cover their total education costs. Most college bound students will find it necessary to rely on a combination of grants, scholarships and federal and/or private loans to fully cover their college tuition.