143,000 students to lose Pell Grant funding in 2012

Jason Delisle, director of NAF’s Federal Education Budget Project, wrote in a Dec. 6 blog post that in 2010 and 2011, Congress funded Pell Grants according to early Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that were well below the necessary amount.

Congress must abide by the early CBO estimate for non-entitlement programs like Pell Grants, Delisle wrote, allowing lawmakers to keep funding as low as possible.

“But knowingly underfunding Pell Grants has helped to fuel the crisis-like atmosphere that surrounds the program’s annual appropriation,” he wrote.

In the final months of 2011, it was clear that the Pell program would have surplus funds for upcoming fiscal years.

Delisle, two weeks before Pell Grants saw drastic changes in Congress, called the overfunding a “rare bit of good news for Pell Grants indeed.”

Pell Grants have run a surplus more times than the program ran a deficit since the early-1990s, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

Pauline Abernathy, TICAS vice president, said cutting off Pell Grant funding for students who have taken college courses for six years will interrupt thousands of degree tracks without warning.

The new six-year limit doesn’t include provisions for students who have needed non-credit bearing remedial classes before they qualify for courses worth credit, Abernathy said.

“An immediate retroactive time limit is like changing the rules in the middle of a game—and then scoring the entire game based on the new rules,” she said. “After years of studies, students who are depending on Pell Grants to cross the finish line will suddenly be sidelined.”