States consider college aid cuts; student programs at risk

At a time when many students and parents are struggling to pay for college, several cash-starved states are considering reducing funds for grants and scholarships for thousands of low- and middle-income students.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to close the state’s $24 billion deficit includes sharp cuts in the state’s Cal Grants program, which provides up to $9,700 a year for eligible college students.

Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating Cal Grants for new students and reducing grants for some existing students.

The plan would have an impact on more than 200,000 students, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, an advocacy group.

Democrats have vowed to fight the proposal, but for some prospective students, the damage has already been done, says acting institute Director Lauren Asher.

"The risk of losing Cal Grants could easily lead some students to decide they can’t afford" to go to college, she says.

Other proposals to reduce or restructure state financial aid programs:

Ohio’s education chancellor has proposed a new formula for its Ohio College Opportunity Grant program that would reduce financial aid for some community college students.

Students wouldn’t receive any OCOG money if federal Pell grants — which are provided to low-income students — covered the full cost of their tuition and a portion of other expenses.

The change would reduce the amount of money community college students receive for living expenses, such as child care, says Ronald Abrams, president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.

The state’s Board of Regents estimates the change would reduce the average community college student’s financial aid by $1,500 a year.

The proposal would also eliminate OCOG grants for students who attend private colleges or for-profit career colleges.

"We don’t think it’s fair to single out any college student based on the kind of college they go to," says Bill Wolfson, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Career Colleges and Schools.

In Florida, lawmakers voted to cap the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship program at this year’s levels, even though tuition at state universities is expected to increase by up to 15% next year.
In the past, the scholarships covered up to 100% of tuition for eligible students.

The economic stimulus package raised the maximum Pell grant by $500 to $5,350 for the 2009-10 academic year.

But cuts in state financial aid and increases in tuition at some public schools could undermine Congress’ efforts to make college more affordable, Asher says.

Even with the increase in Pell grants, she says, for many students, "The odds of being worse off are quite high."


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