April 13, 2011

Federal Budget Deal Will Preserve Student Aid at Cornell

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The Cornell Financial Aid office is celebrating a last-minute federal budget compromise reached on Friday, which largely spared student aid programs.

House Republicans proposed reducing the maximum award for the Pell Grant financial aid program by $845, but the compromise maintained the scholarship allocation, which benefits 2,200 Cornell students. Meanwhile, subsidies for graduate student loans and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which supports low-income students, were saved from elimination, quelling University concerns about large federal student aid cuts.

“This is a relief,” said Thomas Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis. “Since there were so many unknowns, we prepared new student aid packages with the current maximum award, which is also $5,550, so we don’t have to discuss contingency plans.”

Though the bill maintains the program’s maximum award, Pell Grants will no longer be given for summer study. Keane estimated that fewer than 25 students at Cornell receive the year-round grants, although about 2,000 Cornell students receive $2 million in academic-year Pell Grant funding, Keane said.

Under the original House budget, H.R. 1, which passed on Feb. 19, the University would have lost $1.76 million in aid from Pell Grants, Keane told The Sun in March.

President Barack Obama originally proposed the cut to summer Pell Grants in his 2012 budget proposal. By ending the year-round Pell Grant program, Final Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011 will save the government more than $35 billion in the next decade, according to the proposal.

“[The program] has cost 10 times more than anticipated and failed to demonstrate a meaningful impact on students’ academic progress,” the proposal stated, making the program one of the “tough choices needed to fully fund the $5,550 maximum award in the coming years.”

While year-round Pell Grants were intended to help students accelerate their graduation by allowing them to take summer classes, the proposal stated that “the program appears to be providing significant amounts of aid to students who would have accelerated their education regardless of the second award.”

The academic-year Pell Grants, which only support funding during the school year, are used by significantly more students and have a bigger impact on financial aid at Cornell, according to Keane.

Roneal Desai ’13, Student Assembly minority liaison at large and Pell Grant recipient, said that the cuts would “have a profound impact on one class or another of Cornellian’s ability to finance an Ivy League education.”

Reversing Obama’s initial proposal, subsidized student loans for graduate students — another federal aid initiative — was not cut in the final budget. Obama’s proposal said cutting the “poorly targeted in-school interested subsidy” was necessary to continue sustaining the maximum Pell Grant award.

Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, said keeping the program would continue to support “our graduate students with the greatest financial need.”

“With the subsidized student loads for graduate students, the federal government covers interest charged during the period the graduate student is enrolled at least half-time and for the six-month grace period after graduation,” Knuth said. “Thus, the availability of the subsidized interest program benefits our graduate students with the greatest financial need.”

The budget compromise also spared the funds appropriated to the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which H.R. 1 would have eliminated altogether. The compromise also cuts $20 million from the FSEOG’s total 757 million in 2010. The FSEOG currently provides about $1.6 million of aid to low-income students at Cornell each year, Keane said.

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, while “the reduced funding can be seen as a partial victory … the change in FY 2011 FSEOG appropriate funds at this point in the year will require the Department to release new allocations.”

The compromise created a provisional budget, which expires Friday. On Thursday, the House and Senate will vote to finalize the budget and submit it to President Obama.

Original Author: Akane Otani