University preps for changes in Pell Grant funding

An adjustment in federal financial aid regulations has reduced the maximum Pell Grant offering over the course of a student’s college career from $49,500 to $33,000.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, 8,189 Youngstown State University students received nearly $30 million in Pell Grant funding, said Elaine Ruse, director of the YSU Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships.

She said the figure and the policy change concern her.

“It definitely has the potential to affect a lot of our students, or at least enough to be of concern. Any student effect in funding near graduation is a concern not only for my office but for the university,” Ruse said.

Originally awarded for 18 semesters, the regulation change decreases award offerings by one-third. The Pell Grant is awarded for spring and fall semesters, totaling $5,500 yearly.

The measure, which goes into effect in July, was implemented to cut federal spending.

Ruse said that while Pell Grant reductions may affect some students’ ability to afford college, other forms of financial aid, such as scholarships, have never been more important.

Ruse said the financial aid office has worked to notify YSU students that their Pell Grant funding may be running out.

She also cautions that transferring schools does not reset a student’s Pell Grant. The money used and semesters enrolled follow a student throughout his or her college career.

Sophomore Angela Stana is a transfer student from Walsh University. She receives Pell Grant funding, but doesn’t plan to exceed the maximum of 12 semesters.

“I’m on track [to graduate], and I won’t go past six years,” Stana said.

Along with graduating on time, Stana said she thinks that students who deplete their Pell Grant awards will have to rely solely on personal income, making it difficult to graduate after financial aid runs out.

Junior Warren Felton may be one of those students who runs out of resources before he receives a degree.

“Money runs out quickly,” Felton said about his Pell Grant.

He is worried that he could exceed the 12-semester limit.

“I’m trying to take my time and not rush my education,” Felton said.

But rushing to finish school may be an outcome of the regulation change.

While the federal government is trying to reel in spending, Ruse said the guidelines were changed to push degree completion.

Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs, said he’s concerned about students who are close to graduation and running low on their Pell Grant funding.

“Because of the federal government’s financial problems, they’re taking major steps to tighten funding,” Fahey said. “I’m worried this will have a negative impact on our students.”

Freshman Charesse Hagan said she receives $200 per semester in Pell Grant funding. When she first applied, she didn’t receive anything because the government combined her income and her mother’s income.

Hagan plans to graduate in four years with a degree in finance, but said the new regulations could affect her if she goes beyond.

“For those students who receive the full amount, it’s going to affect them,” Hagan said.

Hagan uses private loans and scholarships to pay for the remainder of her tuition.

Fahey said YSU intends to apply ideas discussed in the strategic plan — such as the first-year experience and the new retention management software — to ensure that students are completing their degree requirements in a timely manner, which would avoid depleting grant funding.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help students,” Fahey said.