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Today, the U.S. Senate and House passed the final version of the economic recovery package with an enormous increase to the Pell grant program. The Pell grant serves almost 7 million low income students who face obstacles staying in college and out of the unemployment line due to the economic climate. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 devotes $17.1 billion to the program, and passed in the House by a vote of 246-183 and the Senate by 60-38.
“We are elated to see investments in critical college access programs that will provide solid and enduring economic recovery over the long term,” said Carmen Berkley, president of the United States Student Association.
Recent trends have shown states and institutions of higher education, facing recession and budget shortfalls, must use tuition hikes to maintain budgets. This increased financial burden on students and families results in an over- reliance on loans to pay for college. As a result, students deciding to attend college may drop out rather than risk the significant debt burden to pay for college. Current students end up working more and suffering academically. Nearly half of all students enrolled full time work 25 hours or more per week. Students graduating with significant loan debt, averaging almost $20,000 in 2007, are forced to put off marriage, children, and home purchase. These trends, already problems before the downturn, are now further exacerbated.
The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act increases the maximum Pell grant from $4,371 to a maximum of $5,550 in 2010. It will also include $200 million in work study funds, which will provide for more on-campus jobs for low and moderate income students in return for grant aid. In addition, it increases the maximum higher education tax credit to $2,500 and makes it available to nearly 4 million low-income students who had not had any access to the higher education tax credit in the past by making $1,000 refundable.
“We applaud the U.S. Senate and House members who voted for a stronger economy through education,” noted Rich Williams, higher education associate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG).
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