New federal spending bill won’t help ousted Pell Grant recipients in Alabama

Alabama students.JPGStudents walk to class at the University of Alabama. According to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, 38 percent of Alabama college students received some form of Pell Grant aid in the 2011-12 school year. (File photo/Alabama Media Group) 

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Federal lawmakers reached an agreement Monday on a long-overdue spending bill to fund the U.S. government through September.

The omnibus spending bill boosts Pell Grant funding, increasing the maximum Pell Grant amount by about $85 to $5,730.

But it will do little to help thousands of Alabama college students who lost their Pell Grants because of a lifetime eligibility restriction approved by Congress in June 2012.

“It wasn’t the $85,” said Greg Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. “It was the eligibility limitations.”

“There’s nothing those students can do about it now unless someone lifts the restriction.”

The cost-saving restriction limits each Pell Grant recipient to 12 full-time semesters of aid in his or her lifetime.

Implemented retroactively, it caught thousands of Alabama college students unprepared in the summer and fall of 2012, forcing them to pay out of pocket or quit school.

According to a 2012 study commissioned by ACHE, nearly 5,000 Alabama college students lost their Pell Grants that year because of the restriction.

At the time, more than 12,000 others were within two semesters of losing their eligibility because of the policy.

Fitch said ACHE doesn’t know yet how many students have lost Pell Grants since the commission published the study in December 2012. College statistics from the 2013-14 school year are still being processed, he said.

With little available in the way of state financial aid, federal Pell Grants constitute an important source of student aid in Alabama.

As of the 2011-12 school year, 38 percent of all college student in Alabama had some form of Pell Grant assistance. That compares to 25 percent in the 2008-09 school year. 

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