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Pell Grant decisions postponed to later date

With the failure of the congressional “supercommittee,” came a temporary victory for Pell Grant recipients.

The special committee, which was created in August to find a way to cut $1.2 trillion from the national debt by the end of the year, announced Monday evening they could not reach an immediate agreement. Discussions could be postponed for another month, according to a release from the White House.

On the chopping block for the potential cuts was a proposal to decrease funding for Pell Grants, federal grants given to low-income undergraduate students. Because the committee could not reach a decision, an automatic $1.2 trillion will be cut from defense and domestic programs in 2013, according to USA Today, giving Congress another year to decide where to cut funding and giving Pell Grant recipients a short sigh of relief.

Vice Provost for Student Success Paul Dosal said 40 percent of USF’s undergraduate students receive Pell Grants. Half of those students receive the maximum amount of $5,550 per year, according to studentaid.ed.gov, which would be decreased to $3,000 per year if the proposed cuts were implemented.

“Because USF serves so many limited-income students and Pell recipients, any loss in Pell funding threatens to scale back our enrollment,” Dosal said.

If the grant is cut, students may have to take out more loans, work more hours or reduce the number of classes they take to make up for the gap in tuition, he said, which may delay their graduation.

A decrease in Pell Grant funding may also hurt the University when planning the 2012-13 budget, Dosal said, because it will have to consider what internal resources are available to compensate for the federal loss.

“That’s hard for us to do just because we don’t know what the state budget is going to look like and what our state appropriation is going to be, so it’s difficult for us to put into place all the things that we need to promote student success,” he said.

The state budget will be finalized next July, at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

In the meantime, the Student Aid Alliance, a coalition of different national organizations that advocate for federal student assistance, launched the “Save Student Aid: Statement of Support,” petition in October to gain the attention of the supercommitee.

According to the alliance’s website, the group presented more than 100,000 signatures to the committee Nov. 17.

Student Government (SG) Senate President Khalid Hassouneh said he received an email Friday from Provost Ralph Wilcox and Dosal encouraging SG to join the petition.

“It is a legitimate concern of ours, just as it is for the administration,” Hassouneh said. “Obviously, (SG doesn’t) have as many tools at the federal level as we do at the state or local level.”

Jonathan Fansmith, associate director for government relations for the American Council on Education and a member of the Student Aid Alliance, said he repeatedly hears from students about how important financial aid is to them and how strongly they support federal funding.

“It seems like sometimes Congress doesn’t necessarily get that message,” he said. “We thought about different ways we could make sure people understood just how broad based the support was for these programs.”

About 7,000 people to 8,000 people sign the alliance’s petition every day on their website, Fansmith said. As of Tuesday night, the petition had more than 128,000 signatures. Hassouneh said the Florida Student Association has been lobbying the federal government and Congress about this issue, and the petition is just another way for the nation to voice its opinion. “We recognize that (there is a) major cost and financial burden on the federal government,” he said. “But at the same time, we need them to recognize and keep in mind that without this program, hundreds of thousands of students wouldn’t be able to attend college. That’s why we care.”

Though discussions on the cuts have been temporarily postponed, Hassouneh said the issue won’t be forgotten.

“It’s a little comforting there won’t be any immediate decisions made,” he said. “Obviously, there is a long-term potential for cuts to Pell Grants and higher education as a whole. It really is an issue bigger than just USF and the state of Florida. I assume (USF) will be re-evaluating our (priorities) and come up with the best way to concentrate all our efforts together and make our voice heard.”