In what has been called a “tremendous loss” to students not only at Eastern Michigan University but institutions around the country, EMU Financial Aid Director Cynthia Van Pelt said students who were full-time during fall and winter semesters will no longer be eligible for Pell Grants during the upcoming summer semester.
“It’s a big loss for us and really for every school and all of our students that are Pell eligible,” Van Pelt said. “We really benefited from it. All of our students that were taking spring and summer classes, it really made it more affordable and made it possible for students to take out less loan money and it allowed them to take classes during spring and summer and hopefully graduate sooner.”
Beginning with the fall 2011 semester, the Federal Pell Grant program was limited to one academic year of eligibility per year.
Last year, undergraduate students who were eligible for the Pell Grant program could receive up to two years of Pell Grant eligibility in one year. This provision allowed students to accelerate their studies by receiving Pell Grant funds in the summer term. The authorization for that provision expired June 30, 2011.
Additionally, if students used Pell Grant eligibility at another school they might not be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant in the spring semester.
Last year, 2,701 students received aid in the spring and 1,747 in the summer semester.
The impact the change might have on enrollment has yet to be determined.
“I think a lot of that will require research to look back a few years to see if receiving a Pell Grant last year had an impact on summer
enrollment,” Van Pelt said.
Last year federal regulations allowed students to receive up to $1,387 in Pell Grant aid for the spring and summer semesters. Congress cited a lack of funding and budget restraints as the reasoning behind the change, which is being implemented this year, Van Pelt said.
“It was in effect last summer and we were able to award a lot of students both spring and summer Pell Grants out of that new regulation, but the problem was that the same thing was true around the country and Congress decided they couldn’t afford it,” she said.
“It had increased the spending out of the Pell program way more than they thought it was ever going to. Along with budget cuts everywhere else they decided they had to go back to the original regulations, which said that if you’re full-time fall and full-time winter, then you’ve used up your annual eligibility.”
Van Pelt said a few years ago, Congress implemented the “year-round Pell” with the idea in mind of helping students complete their college matriculation quicker and keep their loan debt down.
With the year round Pell eliminated for full-time students, Van Pelt is worried students will use more loans. Approximately 17,000 EMU students received some type of funding such as grants, loans, parent loans, alone, 13,892 students received loans.
“The idea originally to be able to provide grant funding over the spring and summer so students wouldn’t be able to borrow so much,” she said. “So if the federal government’s plan was to reduce borrowing by allowing more grant money and if you take that grant money away, you go right back to where you were before.”
For some, taking out a loan might be one of a few options left for students.
“If they haven’t used all of their Stafford loan eligibility, they can borrow a Stafford Loan or if they go up a grade level like from freshman to sophomore or sophomore to junior between winter and summer, they could qualify for additional Stafford loan eligibility,” Van Pelt said.
“We hope to have work study funding available. We plan to have Perkins loan
money available. University grant funding is very questionable right at this point because drop/add is not over yet and we’ll be able to assess where we are and where our spending levels are in about two weeks.”
Van Pelt said it is worth noting that half-time students or those who haven’t maxed out their grants will still be eligible.
“We have a lot of students that will still receive Pell Grants because they were less than full-time either last fall or this winter,” she said.
The summer application for financial aid will be available Feb. 15 and information regarding the change will be included to help students determine eligibility. The university has yet to send out notifications to students about the upcoming changes.
“Right at this stage, it’s a little premature to be sending out notifications,” she said.
A key point, Van Pelt said, is that although a Pell Grant is free money that doesn’t have to be repaid, a Pell Grant will never pay for a student’s full tuition— let alone one class.
“If they’re not eligible for anything else, just being eligible for a Pell Grant won’t be a deciding factor on whether or not a student can attend summer,” she said. “Really they’ll either have to have jobs or have some other sort of resource along with the Pell Grant in order to attend classes. No one can just have a Pell all by itself and have the semester covered.”
Junior Ashley Williams said although the change won’t affect her because she’s a half time student, she’s worried about the impact on her friends who attend school full-time year round.
“I’m not sure if my friends will be able to afford school in the summer without the grant,” she said. “I agree that the Pell Grant doesn’t pay for your full tuition but it is a big help.”
Van Pelt has advised students who are no longer eligible for Pell in the summer to be certain that they can afford to take classes before they sign up.
“If they want to take classes then they have to know that they have resources from somewhere to pay for their tuition and living expenses for that time period,” she said. “If that means working or if they have somewhere else that they can get money, they really shouldn’t not have a plan.”
Transfer student Donavan Wright said he might not be able to take any classes in the summer out of fear he won’t be able to afford it.
“That extra $500 or so really helped out,” Wright said. “My plan was take classes during the summer to speed up the time until I graduate. I doubt I’ll graduate when I wanted to now.”