Maximum Pell Preserved

WASHINGTON — Although final details were still elusive late Thursday, members of Congress appear to have reached a compromise on a federal budget for 2012 that would preserve the maximum Pell Grant while changing the program's eligibility criteria. The spending plan would also slightly increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and end the grace period for interest on subsidized student loans.

Republicans and Democrats agreed on much of the budget early in the week, but conflicts over policy riders and extending a payroll tax cut has postponed passage so far. Late Thursday, Congressional budget negotiators were reported to have reached an agreement, with little time to spare: if Congress could not compromise, the budget would have.

The bill, HR 3671, draws from ideas put forward in Republican and Democratic spending plans earlier this year: it would preserve the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550, but change the program’s eligibility criteria, making as many as 100,000 of its 9 million recipients ineligible. The grants could be used for a total of 12 semesters, not 18, as in the past — a change that would affect an estimated 62,000 beneficiaries and take effect July 1, 2012. Higher education lobbyists said the limit would apply to any semesters a student was enrolled, rather than only those in which he or she attended full-time, as they had originally thought.

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INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION

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