Pell Grant changes may hurt universitiesFor years the Pell Grant program has been helping low-income students afford college. In the past, these federal grants covered a significant portion of a needy student's tuition. In recent years, the cost of college has dramatically increased, while the amount a student can earn from a Pell Grant has been reduced.

Pell Grants were initially created in 1972 to help a growing number of low-income students obtain a degree. The amount of money received by a pupil depends on a variety of factors, such as income and family size. Many recipients cannot rely on the grant alone - they often take out student loans to cover the additional cost of attending a university.

The Huffington Post reported that in 1980, the maximum funds from a Pell Grant covered the entire cost of a two-year degree and 77 percent of a four-year degree. Since then, tuition has skyrocketed, and Pell Grants now cover only 62 percent of a two-year diploma and a mere 36 percent of a public university four-year degree.

Pell Grants have been the subject of controversy as the government struggles to get its finances in order. President Barack Obama increased the grants in a stimulus bill, but his second proposal to increase them was shot down by Congress. In 2011, the House of Representatives passed a bill that cut several billion dollars from the program, but the legislation was never implemented. During the debt ceiling crisis in 2011, the House got their way and were able to cut money from the Pell Grant program. Funding was boosted again when the debt ceiling was raised, but the length of time a student could receive the money for was cut last December.

While Republicans and Democrats have sparred over the program, students and universities have struggled to deal with the cuts. Since the summer Pell Grant program has been eliminated, colleges are seeing fewer students in summer classes because they cannot afford the tuition.

A drop in enrolled students who can no longer afford college combined with less state university funding could mean disaster for students and schools alike. When students cannot pay for school and cease to attend, institutions are sometimes forced to raise tuition even more. 

Education legislation may change how many students receive Pell Grants. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan proposed a federal budget that would retain the maximum amount of money a needy student could receive, but would also adjust eligibility requirements for the program. This would keep the program sustainable for a longer period of time, but could still mean that universities may suffer with less revenue in the near future and fewer students paying their way with Pell Grants.
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