Feds compelled to up Pell Grant program

As the economy worsens, increasing numbers of college students are applying for federal financial aid — and partly as a result, the federal Pell Grants program may need up to $6 billion in additional funds next year, Bush administration officials warned Congress last week.

The increased demand for Pell Grants is likely a function of older, nontraditional students returning to school as well as more students qualifying for aid, according to The New York Times. And at Yale, the Student Financial Services Office is bracing itself for a possible onslaught of requests for reevaluations of financial aid packages, Director Caesar Storlazzi said.

“Certainly we wouldn’t be surprised that the worsening economy would affect people’s ability to pay tuition,” Storlazzi said. He cited lost jobs, decreased salaries or changes in a family’s asset picture as factors that could lead to requests for more aid.

While the University financial services office has not yet seen the repercussions of the economic downturn, the Pell Grants program is already coping with some of its side effects — one of the largest ever year-to-year increases in grant applications.

As of July 31, 800,000 more students had applied for grants than on that date last year, according to a memorandum written by Thomas Skelly, the Department of Education’s director of budget services.

More than six million college students — most with family incomes of $40,000 or less — will receive Pell Grants ranging from $431 to $4,371 this year, according to the Times.

But even though the $14-billion Congressional appropriation for the current fiscal year looks as if it will not be sufficient, it seems doubtful that the program, established in 1972, will be allowed to run into trouble, according to Storlazzi.

“I think it is highly unlikely that Congress wouldn’t do anything to fix the program,” he said. “It’s highly visible, it’s extremely important and it’s the backbone of the financial aid programs at most schools.”

In fact, at many schools, the only need-based aid available may be Pell Grants, he said.

Yale students not currently on financial aid may apply for aid at any point in the year if their families’ financial situations change, Storlazzi said. But depending on when the application is received, the aid may be a spring-only award — generally if the application is filed after Jan. 1, he said.

Since the tuition bills for this year are due Aug. 1 and Dec. 1, any requests for increased financial aid for the semester after those dates need to be accompanied by an explanation of the extenuating circumstances, he said.

But while the financial services office may see more requests for reviews and more late aid applications this year, the fallout from the economic downturn — if it continues — may not be fully seen until next year, Storlazzi said.

In the class of 2012, 12.3 percent of students have qualified for Pell Grants, compared to 10.8 percent in the class of 2011 and 9.4 percent in the class of 2010.

This increase is mainly a function of Yale’s new financial aid initiative along with more successful recruitment of low-income students, and not a reflection of a worsening economy, Storlazzi said.

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