Mar 092009
Authors: The Editorial Board The Lariat Baylor U.

Editor’s note: Seth Stern is taking the week off. His column will return following spring break.

(U-WIRE) – For many colleges, raising tuition has become an accepted practice, but the stimulus bill may give students a new way to counter college costs.

President Barack Obama recently announced several new education reforms that are geared primarily at college students. One point in his plan was increasing the Federal Pell Grant. In his plan, money will be diverted from the federal student loan division, which the president hopes will have a $4 billion surplus after its own reconstruction.

In the past, the average Pell Grant recipient came from a family making less than $20,000 per year. With the increase, families making up to $50,000 are eligible.

It’s the eighth consecutive year Pell Grants have increased the maximum payout per student, but before, the U.S. Congress controlled the purse strings.

The new system will let the Pell Grant automatically increase every year as inflation and/or tuition increases.

The rise in Pell Grants will jump from a maximum of $4,731 to $5,350. But every applying student does not receive the maximum amount of Pell Grant funding.

Since 2002, the average Pell Grant has grown from $2,000 to $2,300, while the maximum amount a student can receive has grown from $4,000 to $4,731 in that time frame. While that’s still a major help, it hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of tuition. Or inflation.

In 2002, Baylor first changed to a flat-rate tuition for full-time students. It was $15,700 per year, almost $8,000 less than the current cost of education. That’s a 50 percent increase. The Pell Grant average payout has only grown $300, which is a 15 percent increase.

That’s why a $600 jump is necessary. In the current structure, families making between $20,000 and $50,000 are caught in a gap between federal assistance and the ability to pay for college themselves. An increased Pell Grant would help these families.

The grant would be a huge boost to two-year schools. For students at four-year universities, the grant increase may not mean as much, but the return on years of loans at those schools will be much higher.

That is because students will make enough after graduation to pay off those loans. That might not be the case for community college graduates who likely won’t make as much as their university counterparts. However, that is where the increase will help most.

Unlike Baylor, where hourly tuition hovers around $1,000 per hour for part-time students and a flat rate of $23,664 per year for full-time students, community colleges are much cheaper. McLennan Community College offers credit classes between $61 and $121 per hour, based on residency.

Many of these students will transfer to Baylor or other universities, which might not have been possible without the Pell Grant. Baylor, like many other schools, offers large scholarships for transfer students, so it’s likely that the grant could be the catalyst for an advanced education.

It should be said that this money won’t be given without scrutiny. The Pell Grant isn’t awarded unless the recipient is already enrolled in college.

However, additional requirements should be added. Performance in the classroom should be addressed to make sure that students are progressing.

While that increase is not enough to pay for a semester of classes at most four-year universities, every little bit helps.

The Pell Grant increase should help many lower-income families make it to college.

Since education is one of the cornerstones of life in the United States, it’s only fitting to give everyone the same opportunities.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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