In the present times, the cost of education is on the rise. On an average the cost of a private college is $20,000 per annum. Even the cost of education at a public university or college averages around $10,000 per annum. Thus students who belong to the lower income families find it difficult to pursue higher education. Statistics reveal that only about 1/2 the students from families with low income are able to earn a college degree. With a view to encourage the continuation of education, the Federal Government introduced the Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant is a need-based financial aid for students who belong to lower income families. The Federal Government earmarks certain funds for this grant each year. The quantum of funds varies from year to year. The grants are disbursed to the eligible students from this fund. However, there are certain criteria that one must meet in order to be eligible for the grant.
The criteria for Pell Grant Eligibility are discussed below.
• Financial status: The U.S. Department of Education discerns if the student needs financial help by using a formula. This formula takes into account various factors and results in a figure (the Expected Family Contribution or EFC). This number helps to decide whether the student is eligible for the Pell grant. The factors which are used to arrive at the EFC are –
o The student’s income and assets (if the student is independent)
o The income and assets of the parents (if the student is independent)
o The size of the family
o The number of family members pursuing post secondary education
• Citizenship: The student must be a U.S citizen or an eligible non-citizen. An eligible non-citizen is a person who fulfills any one of the following conditions –
a) Is a U.S. permanent resident with an Alien Registration Card (I-551),
b) Is a conditional permanent resident with an I-551C card or
c) Has an Arrival Departure Record (I-94) from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The designation in the Record must be that of refugee, asylum granted, parole or Cuban-Haitian entrant.
• Course of study: The students should be pursuing their undergraduate studies. They should not have obtained a bachelor’s degree or a professional degree. Students pursing post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs are also eligible to apply for the Pell Grant.
• Institutions: There are approximately 5400 post secondary institutions taking part in the process. The student must be enrolled in one of these institutions.
• Registration with Selective Service: A male student must be registered with the selective service. Alternatively he must sign a statement of registration signifying that he need not register.
• Educational criterion: The student must have earned a high school diploma or a GED.
The student should not already be receiving the Pell Grant. However he can be eligible for two grants if he is planning to undertake additional courses within that year to speed up his studies.
The Pell Grant is unlike a student loan because one is not required to pay it back. It has already helped millions of financially weak students in the pursuance of their studies.
Like student loans, Pell Grants are a very popular means of financing studies.