Florida: Increasing Pell Grants Help Tampa College Students

"With the cost of a college education steadily rising, students and the parents who bankroll them might find some solace in knowing the most popular pot of money for need-based financial aid has been climbing even faster," The Tampa Tribune reports. "Pell grants, the federal program that provides cash awards to low-income undergraduates, are being handed out at increasing levels at Hillsborough Community College, the University of South Florida, the state university system as a whole, and nationally. Several factors are contributing, including President Barack Obama’s recommitment to the program, the slow economy and dwindling family incomes. 'I always describe what we’ve seen with Pell in the last five or six years to be a perfect storm,' said Megan McClean, a policy analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in Washington, D.C. 'It really wasn’t just one thing.' ... Forty-one percent of USF undergrads receive a Pell grant, behind only Florida International University’s 47 percent in the state university system. Hamilton said that’s because USF traditionally has had a lot of first-generation and low-income students. That’s 14,823 students overall at USF receiving Pell grants in fall 2012, nearly double the 7,813 that earned one in fall 2004. Systemwide, 100,568 students at Florida’s 11 public universities received grants, also nearly doubling the 50,705 eight years earlier. At Hillsborough Community College, 30,350 students received Pell grants worth $55 million in the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year for which data was available. That was up from 24,769 recipients and $43 million in 2009-10. ... Increasing Pell awards was a priority of Obama in his first term, and spending on the program has increased from $16 billion in his first year of office to $32 billion today. The program has been largely insulated from anti-tax, anti-big-government sentiment, however, because Congress made changes to federal student loans that reduced the cost of those programs. In addition, McClean, the Washington consultant, said Pell is a 'well-targeted program,' with the majority of awards going to families earning less than $30,000, and criteria in place to ensure students are attending class, maintaining good grades, and on track to graduate. 'It’s a great program,' she said. 'It really is considered the cornerstone program of federal student aid. It’s the one focused on access and need, and it really has changed a lot of lives over its history.'"

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