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Richard Doty
Media Relations
rgdoty@indiana.edu
812-855-0084

Edward St. John
School of Education
estjohn@indiana.edu
812-855-1240

Last modified: Monday, February 10, 2003

IU expert says proposed funding for federal Pell Grants remains too low

The federal government's education budget proposal for 2004 continues to shortchange the Pell Grant program, according to Edward St. John, a higher education policy expert in the Indiana University School of Education, who said Indiana is one of the few states with success in addressing this situation.

President Bush has proposed an increase in spending on Pell Grants for the next fiscal year of $1.9 billion to a total of $12.7 billion, but with no change in the Pell maximum of $4,000 per student. The Pell Grant is the primary federal need-based student grant program.

"The Bush administration has fallen short of its goal of treating Pell as a priority when it fails to increase the maximum amount available to students," said St. John, who issued a report through the IU Education Policy Center last May that was critical of the Pell program. The Web site for the policy center is http://www.indiana.edu/~iepc.

St. John said then that U.S. Department of Education research has overlooked the key role of finances, in particular the role of need-based student aid, when analyzing the causes of disparity in college access. This action, which could be corrected through increasing the student Pell maximum amount beyond $4,000, has left more than 1 million college-qualified, low-income and minority students behind, he said in the report.

Regarding the current budget proposal, he said, "While the U.S. Department of Education claims the Pell grants are their flagship priority, they have failed to invest enough to maintain financial access, given the financial crisis facing most states. The Pell total is still too low to ensure that poor college-qualified students can afford to attend four-year colleges in most states."

St. John, a professor of higher education at IU, cited a recent congressional panel that indicated more than 4 million students would be left behind in the first decade of the 21st century if the federal government did not substantially increase the Pell limit.

"Only a few states maintain financial access for low-income, college-qualified students," he explained, "and Indiana is one of these." In a recent report published by the Lumina Foundation for Education of Indianapolis, St. John and his colleagues in policy research documented that Indiana's 21st Century Scholars program actually increased the odds that low-income high school graduates would attend college. "These grants more than double the Pell grant award for low-income students in Indiana," he explained, "but the financial barriers to access are insurmountable for low-income students in the majority of the states."

Nick Vesper, policy analyst for the State Student Aid Commission of Indiana, said, "So far the state of Indiana has maintained its commitment to student aid for low-income students, but it is a challenge given the tax revenue shortfalls in the state."

For more details, contact St. John at 812-855-1240 or estjohn@indiana.edu.