(Orientation) Paying for college? Here’s a little good news

John Newsom News & Record

Greensboro, N.C.- College costs keep going up, but there’s a little good news for students who use grants and loans to pay for their education.

Effective July 1, the maximum amount of the Pell Grant went up slightly and interest rates on new student and parent loans decreased.

There’s more good news for some Guilford County, North Carolina, residents: Say Yes scholarships will be awarded for the first time this fall, and Guilford Technical Community College will let high school students use Pell Grants to pay for college courses.

Here are some details about all of these developments.

Pell Grants

The federal government has adjusted the Pell Grant — the federal scholarship for low- and middle-income families — for inflation. That means the maximum award will go up $40 to $5,815. The average award, which is based on family income, is almost $3,700. Most recipients are from families that earn less than $40,000 per year.

There’s also talk in Washington of letting students use the Pell Grant year-round. It’s currently restricted to the fall and spring semesters.

But the Pell Grant continues to be D.C.’s favorite political hot potato. The recent practice of indexing Pell Grants for inflation will cease in 2017, which means the maximum amount of the grant might not change. Moreover, the Senate earlier this month approved a bill that would divert $1.2 billion from the Pell Grant program. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, a Democrat, said this move would especially hurt African American undergraduates, especially those enrolled at historically black colleges.

The Institute for College Access & Success, which works to make higher education more affordable, noted that the new maximum Pell Grant will cover less than 30 percent of the cost of attending a public four-year college — the smallest share in over 40 years — because tuition and other college costs are increasing faster than federal aid.


The interest on Stafford Loans, the popular federally-backed student loans, will decline in 2016-17.

For undergraduates taking out new loans, the interest rate will fall by about half a percentage point to 3.76 percent. The interest rate for Stafford loans for graduate students will decline by about the same amount to 5.31 percent.

The rate for Parent and Graduate PLUS loans also will decrease by about half a point to 6.31 percent.

Say Yes

The Guilford County chapter of Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit that promotes higher education, will award its first college scholarships to college freshmen this fall. The initial round of Say Yes scholarships will go to graduates of Guilford County’s public high schools and can cover a portion of tuition, depending on the school and a student’s financial circumstances.


Starting this fall, high school students can use federal Pell Grant money to take college classes at GTCC. The college is one of 44 nationwide — and the only one in North Carolina — to take part in the new Dual Enrollment Pell Experiment that federal officials announced last month.

GTCC will open the program with up to 100 students. Students can use Pell Grant money to cover the cost of student fees, textbooks and transportation. (The state already covers tuition costs through the College & Career Promise program.)

One caveat: Students can get Pell Grants for no more than 12 semesters over their lifetimes. College courses taken by high school students count toward the 12-semester maximum.