Students who do not complete their undergraduate degrees in six years will lose Pell Grant funding; previously, students were eligible for Pell Grants as long as they completed their undergraduate degrees in nine years. The change is expected to save the federal government about $11 billion over the next decade.
It’s estimated that about 100,000 students would be affected by this change, said Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications for the advocacy group Education Trust. Students who take that long to get a degree typically are either transfer students who don’t receive full credit for previous coursework or those working and supporting a family, Wilkins said. Some, she said, will be surprised to learn they might have to come up with thousands of dollars to make up the difference.
“For those 100,000 kids, it’s pretty bad,” Wilkins said.
The bill also reduces the income level under which a student will be eligible to receive the maximum Pell Grant amount, from $30,000 to $23,000, and it eliminates a six-month grade period on federal student loan payments. What’s more, it requires recipients to have a high school diploma, a GED certificate, or complete a home-schooling program to receive a Pell Grant.
As more low-income students have enrolled in college during a weak economy, spending on Pell Grants has exploded, nearly doubling in just over two years to $34.8 billion. In 2008-09, according to data collected by the College Board, 6.2 million students received Pell Grants averaging $2,945; in 2010-11, 9.1 million students received grants averaging $3,828.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, released a statement that read: “The modest increase in funding for priorities such as … Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Head Start, and child care—while welcome—is less than what is needed.”
She added: “We appreciate Congress’s efforts to maintain the maximum Pell Grant award but are concerned about the new eligibility barriers that may prevent low-income students from accessing the program and attending college.”
The bill also delays implementation of new guidelines for marketing unhealthy food to children until the Federal Trade Commission can study the costs of the effort.
The voluntary guidelines proposed by the government earlier this year set maximum levels of fat, sugars, and sodium and asked food companies not to market foods that go beyond those levels to children ages 2 through 17. That could limit colorful cartoon characters on cereal packages, television ads, and product websites.
The food industry, backed by Republicans in Congress, has lobbied aggressively against the guidelines. They say the guidelines are too broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation’s favorite foods, including yogurts and many children’s cereals. Though the guidelines would be voluntary, food companies say they fear the government will retaliate against them if they don’t go along.
The bill passed in the House on Dec. 16 by a vote of 296-121. The Senate approved the measure on Dec. 17, with a 67-32 vote. It now goes to President Obama for approval.