TWIN FALLS • About one-third of College of Southern Idaho students — 3,063 — received a Pell Grant this year to pay for school.
And the number continues to climb.
Jennifer Zimmers, CSI director of Financial Aid, said she expects this year’s number will be higher than the 3,800 students who had a Pell Grant last school year.
“We’re going to surpass that year,” she said.
With the presidential election just a couple of weeks away, Zimmers said the future of Pell Grants depends on who is elected.
“Obviously, it will impact our students if they decrease the amount,” she said.
It could mean students would have to find other ways — such as loans or scholarships — to cover college costs.
The Federal Pell Grant Program provides funding to low-income students to pay for college expenses. Students can receive up to $5,500 each school year.
Program Already Changing
One change to the Pell Grant program came this year. Now, students can receive Pell Grants for a maximum of 12 semesters — down from 18.
Unlike loans, students don’t have to repay the grants. Both part-time and full-time students can apply.
Students can still apply for a Pell Grant for this school year — whether they’re currently enrolled or are planning to take late-start classes.
When students apply, Zimmers said they’re reporting income from one year ago.
“I think the economy has still kind of been on a downturn,” she said, although it’s picking up a bit.
Zimmers said there are still students out there who are struggling. Some couldn’t find jobs and decided to go back to school.
Couldn’t Afford School Without It
When it comes time to pay for college, Brooklyn Taylor relies on federal financial aid.
The first-year College of Southern Idaho student received a Pell Grant this year. She also works 12 hours a week through the Federal Work Study program at the college’s financial aid office. Taylor said she can mold her work schedule around classes, “which is really nice.”
Through federal financial aid, her college expenses are covered. She uses whatever’s left over to pay rent and buy food.
What would she do without a Pell Grant?
“I probably would have stayed home,” she said.
Taylor said it’s nice that her parents don’t have to pay for any of her college expenses. And she also got the opportunity to live on her own.
If her Pell Grant award amount goes down in the future, “it would definitely have an effect,” she said.
What the Presidential Candidates Say
President Barack Obama would let the current $5,550 per year maximum Pell Grant increase to $5,635 next year, as scheduled under current law.
That figure has grown by more than $900 since 2008 for a program that is the largest source of federal aid for students, according to a September Associated Press story.
Under the education issues page on Mitt Romney’s campaign website, he states he’d “strengthen and simplify the financial aid system.”
In a May whitepaper titled, “A Chance for Every Child” — posted on his campaign website — Romney argued that even as federal spending for higher education has grown, the costs of attending college and student debt have ballooned.
“A Romney Administration will refocus Pell Grant dollars on the students that need them most and place the program on a responsible long-term path that avoids future funding cliffs and last-minute funding patches,” according to the whitepaper.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.