Grant changes affect students

Pell eligibility could make paying for school harder

By Princess Gabbara | THE EASTERN ECHO

Outside Pierce Hall where the financial office is located.

Due to the changes in Pell Grant eligibility, many students at Eastern Michigan University are left to wonder how they’ll pay for classes or whether they’ll graduate on time.

Hospitality management major Latasha Jones is one of the students who have been affected by the changes.

“I just don’t understand why they’re making it so hard for us to go to school. I’m not going to be able to take any summer classes,” she said.

Jones also said the changes will delay her graduation plans.

“It’ll probably add another semester,” she said.

EMU Financial Aid Director Cynthia Van Pelt offered clarity for anyone who still might be confused regarding the changes in Pell Grant eligibility.

“… The change in the federal Pell Grant program regulations is putting the spending level back to the way it has been since the 1960s with the exception of two years,” she said. “For students who attended summer 2010 and summer 2011 classes and who were Pell Grant eligible, we were able to award Pell Grants even if they were full time in fall and winter semesters those years.”

“… With the regulation changing back to the original language, students who were full time this fall and winter, will not have Pell Grant eligibility for summer if they plan to enroll.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, half or more of Pell Grant recipients nationwide are unable to contribute a single dollar to their college education and between 2/3-3/4 of Pell Grant recipients can only afford to contribute $1,000 or less. These findings indicate that most Pell Grant recipients are dependent on the money they receive whether it's $1,000 or $3,000.

With all these changes, many students might resort to taking out additional loans or begin taking out loans if they haven’t done so. Van Pelt suggested students only borrow what they need and not what they’re offered.

“Reduce student loan offers whenever possible,” she said. “We always have to offer what the student is eligible to receive, but we tell them to ‘reduce it. You don’t need to take that much’ because they’ll end up getting a refund, and they may not need all of that … To take it all right up front really expands that loan debt …”

In 2007-2008, 53 percent of full-time undergraduates received loans, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

There are options for students who wish to graduate from college with as few loans as possible.

The first option is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to receive financial aid to attend college. Students will need access to documents including W-2 forms and current bank statements, so FAFSA can determine the amount of money to provide. Students should expect to spend 30-45 minutes completing the FAFSA form.

Van Pelt said FAFSA is an essential step for anyone who plans to attend college.

“The FAFSA really does it all,” she said “It gets them consideration for every form of federal financial aid money that’s out there, so just by filling out the one form, it takes care of it all.”

To learn about FAFSA deadlines, different filling options and other information, visit fafsa.ed.gov.

Many students at EMU are busy juggling 3-5 classes along with a part-time job, so another alternative to taking out loans would be picking up an extra shift at work. Students might be surprised at how small changes can make a big difference. For example, working an additional 10 hours per week at minimum wage during the fall and winter adds to approximately $2,000, which is enough money to take at least two classes during the summer.

Psychology major Alexis McCree said she has to work extra hours to pay for tuition.

“I have three jobs. I’m working 36 hours a week,” she said. “If I can work to save money to take a summer class, then I will, so I don’t have to take out loans.”

Another option is going at a slower pace. McCree said she has no other choice than to attend school part time to avoid taking out loans.

“It’s frustrating. I don’t really get grants, but had I gotten grants, I would’ve been able to take 12 credits,” McCree said. “I was taking six credits [this semester], but I had to drop a class. I’ll be 25 next year. I don’t want to be in college when I’m 28.”

On the other hand, some students are rushing to graduate as soon as possible and prefer taking out loans instead.

Marketing major Alonte Barefield said she’s one of those students.

“I rather take the loan and get out of here in a reasonable amount of time,” she said. “Getting a great job with benefits and paying off my loans sounds much better than dragging out a four-year degree to six or seven years.”

There are many scholarships available at the financial aid office.

Many college students rely on scholarships to pay for tuition. Melissa Jones, EMU assistant professor/chair of the English department scholarship committee, said she encourages students to take advantage of the many scholarship opportunities available.

“I think students should apply for as many as they can,” Jones said. “Don’t just pick one. Pick five and keep applying.”

Jones said the English department uses several strategies to inform students of scholarship opportunities.

“We have different types of promotions,” she said. “We did fliers one year. We try and get faculty to get the word of mouth out. We have it on the website and then I think once you establish a process where people know that they’re coming, then I think it’s easier to get applicants.”

“I think it takes faculty intervention. I think you have to make it your job to get the money to students. You can’t imagine it’s the student’s job to get the money.”

Besides university scholarships, students might want to find out if there are any endowed scholarships available.

With endowed scholarships, the money is invested through the university foundation every year, and 4 percent of the money is set aside to put toward the scholarships.

Endowed scholarships are available through academic departments such as English, math, biology, economics, philosophy, history, etc.

Students can visit emich.edu/finaid to browse through scholarships.

Also, there are thousands of scholarships available outside of EMU. Some useful websites include scholarships.com, mycollegeboard.com and mycollegedollars.com.

Jones said she encourages students to reapply for scholarships if they’ve been rejected.

“We [English department] always encourage students even if they got rejected once to reapply. Some years, you’ve got 20 people applying. Next year might only have five, so your odds change each year,” she said.

Journalism/social work major Jordan Cusumano said she resorted to taking out loans after being unsuccessful at finding scholarships.

“Unfortunately, I take out loans. Before coming to EMU, I applied for all sorts of scholarships and didn’t get many,” she said. “I started to feel like it was a waste of time and I stopped applying. I just don’t have the time or knowledge regarding scholarships to apply and get them.”

Barefield said she applied for numerous scholarships.

“I didn’t want to take out as many loans my junior year and I needed the extra money,” she said. “I didn’t receive any funding … They could have given me something.”

Jones said although scholarships provide some type of assistance, they aren’t enough to cover a four-or five-year program.

“Our [English department] scholarships are a one-time-only deal and range from $170-$1,000,” she said. “Even though this helps to cover book costs and unexpected expenses, it is somewhat limited if you’re trying to cover a four-five year educational program.”

Jones said students should think of scholarships as a way to pay for “stuff you wouldn’t necessarily be getting a loan to cover, but you would be putting on a credit card or you would have to take up extra hours.”

Scholarships ranging from $170-$1,000 might not seem like a lot of money to some students, but journalism major Lauren Wynn said every dollar counts.

“Every dollar given to me is one I won’t have to pay and as a struggling student, I’ll take all I can get,” she said.

The financial aid office is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

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