President Trump proposes his ‘safe guard’ plan
By Suni Jo Roberts
President Donald Trump just released his 2018 federal budget blueprint. Among his intentions is one to “safeguard” the Pell Grant program. He will do this by taking out $3.9 billion from its current $10.6 billion surplus to use in other parts of the budget.
Critics argue this wouldn’t safeguard the Pell grant program. Instead, it is argued that the entire surplus should be reinvested into the program so it could expand into offering students year-round Pell grants.
A year-round Pell Grant program would allow students to use money from future awards to pay for a summer semester if they have already used their maximum award amount. This would allow students to get through school faster.
What is the Pell grant and how many students use them?
Pell grants are one type of federal financial aid awarded to low-income students. Unlike student loans, Pell Grants do not have to be paid back. The annual maximum award amount is $5,815 for the 2016-17 award year.
This number changes yearly and Claire McCann, senior policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy, points out that President Trump’s budget proposal says nothing about maintaining funding or keeping this maximum award amount secure for years to come.
The number of Pell grants awarded to students have gone up substantially in recent years. Alongside rising tuition of an 11 percent increase in the last five years at Community Colleges, according to College Board, the percentage of Pell grants awarded to students over the period of 2007-08 to 2011-12 increased from 22 to 33 percent for dependent students and 33 to 48 percent for independent students, according to a report by the National Center of Education Statistics.
What about at Washtenaw Community College?
WCC has been observing an opposite trend: the reliance on student financial aid has decreased since 2011, according to a report put out by the Office of Financial Aid at WCC.
The number of pell grants awarded decreased along with all financial aid given to students. During the 2011-12 school year, 31 percent of students at WCC received a pell grant compared to 24 percent of students that received one during the 2015-16 school year, according to the report.
The report also states that WCC has seen a 21.6 percent reduction in the last 5 years of the amount of financial aid received by students.
The average amount of students receiving aid across all institutions in the United States differs drastically than the number of students receiving aid at WCC.
During the 2013-14 school year 83 percent of students received some type of financial aid (including loans and grants) at all institutions. That number is only 33.1 percent at WCC.
The Financial Aid report from WCC credits the economic recovery in Washtenaw County, making fewer students needing financial aid, and the high number of students that work while attending college.
On student at WCC received a Pell grant during the 2016 Winter semester but was later denied for the grant. He hopes to be awarded it again in the future.
James Leonard is in his second semester at WCC and is studying Early Childhood Education.
He was awarded a Pell grant which helped to cover his tuition costs for the Winter 2016 semester and also allowed him to visit his family, because of the refunded money he didn’t use on tuition.
When Leonard reapplied in the fall he was met with an unfortunate surprise.
“I reapplied in 2016 and was denied, Leonard said. “I didn’t get any scholarships and had to pay out of pocket.”
Leonard, claimed as a dependent, said that his household income did not change but the subsidies his mother received from the Affordable Care Act increased her income so as to make him ineligible.
Leonard plans to go to Eastern Michigan University after WCC to pursue a teaching degree.
“I will be applying every semester,” Leonard said. “I hope to get it again. I hope to become less dependent on my mother. I know EMU is more expensive than WCC so hopefully I get a Pell grant.”
Helping Leonard with his goals to become more independent is his position with the 82 percent of Pell grant recipients that work either full or part-time, this number according to National Center of Education Statistics.
“I completely believe that Pell grants are important,” said Leonard. “The Pell grant especially is a significant amount of money and it’s a huge deal, it’s very important.”
President Trump’s 2018 proposal, “Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” is only a proposal at this point, but anyone interested in education policy will be closely tracking these priorities laid out before us.