Help for students via Pell Grant increase may happen in 2007

(MCT) – A college degree is no longer an added bonus on a resume, but rather a necessity, making the cost of tuition, room and board and other fees a thorn in the sides of many students struggling to pay for school.

The rising cost of higher education is an issue constantly at the forefront of public policy, and one President Bush is addressing in his $2.9 trillion 2008 budget released Feb. 5.

The administration is proposing to raise the maximum Pell Grant award by almost 14 percent, or $550, next year, the largest increase in more than 30 years. It also calls for a 33 percent raise during the next five years, reaching a maximum of $5,400. The current maximum grant is $4,050.

The Pell Grant is the federal government’s main financial aid program for low-income students. Aside from financial need, factors such as the cost of the school, status as full- or part-time student and length of time the student is planning to attend the school are also taken into consideration when awarding the grant.

The award hasn’t been increased since before 2002 and in the 2006-07 academic year the grant covered 33 percent of the average cost of tuition, room and board and other fees at a four-year public school. This is a stark contrast from 20 years ago, when the award was enough to cover 60 percent of the cost of schooling.

“This is real money that will help more low-income students achieve the dream of a college education,” said secretary of education Margaret Spellings at a forum for higher education held at North Carolina State University on Feb. 1.

Spellings remarks came four days before the official release of the 2008 budget, a move that could have been in response to the House of Representatives passing a bill Jan. 31 in which the grant would increase by $260, or 6 percent, to be $4,310.