Big changes are in store for Pell Grants, the federally-funded program which provides money for lower-income students to go to college. In the past, students were eligible for the full amount of $5,500 a year if their families didn't make more than $32,000 annually. Now the maximum income has been restricted to $23,000. The changes are meant to save an estimated $1.3 billion, but critics say it could cut thousands of vulnerable students from funding they need.
At Southern Univesity in Shreveport, about 80 percent of all students receive some kind of financial aid, according to Katraya Williams, Financial Aid Director. One-third of those get Pell Grants. "We have seen a signficant drop in our students who were eligible possibly from last year for the maximum amount, and now they're not," she said.
There are other big changes, too. The grants have been time-limited to 12 semesters. They've also been restricted to include only students who have a G.E.D. or high school diploma. In the past, students have been able to work with colleges and universities to develop ability and placement testing to begin post-secondary education.
Bossier Parish Community College Chancellor Jim Henderson told us that's a big drawback for students at schools like BPCC, which trains students for high-demand fields. "Who in their right minds at the federal government thinks it's a good idea to delay entry into the workforce for skilled workers, I don't know, but somebody made that decision. We're working hard to get that reversed," he said.
The new Pell Grant guidelines will remain in place at least through the 2012-2013 school year.