Rep. Udall fights for student aid

By Angela Peacock

U.S. Representative Tom Udall is working to prevent the U.S. Department of Education from cutting back on key higher education grants and work studies programs.

Udall recently signed a letter to members of the conference committee reviewing the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill, urging Congress to retain a Senate passed provision that would restore higher education assistance to an estimated 84,000 students in need.

“At a time when tuition costs are rising and the economy is struggling, it is troubling that the Department of Education would make any changes that would reduce financial aid,” Udall said in a release. “Although higher education provides the best avenue through which young Americans can find well paying jobs, it’s harder and harder each year for many students to pay for college.”

The change proposed by the U.S. Department of Education would adjust the amount of federal student aid that persons are expected to pay for higher education.

The new provision involves an update to the allowance for state and other taxes, which are used by students and their families to calculate their expected family contribution (EFC) to a student’s education. This calculation determines eligibility for Pell grants, work studies, and Perkins Loans and is used by some private institutions to determine eligibility for private financial aid.

However, Mesalands Community College Financial Aid Director Jerry Klaverweiden explained the new provision will have a minimal effect on Mesalands since the economic status of most students is at or below poverty level. He said what many people aren’t aware of is that students who already receive Pell Grant based on low EFC’s won’t be nearly as hard hit by the change as students who barely meet requirements to qualify for federal Pell grants.

“We serve an economically unprivileged county where an estimated 22 percent of Quay County residents are under poverty level so the majority of our students who are eligible for Pell grants are on the significant recipient end rather than the marginal recipient end,” Klaverwieden said.

Under the U.S. Department of Education changes, 84,000 students would lose their Pell Grants entirely, and total amount of Pell Grants would fall by $270 million.
Klaverweiden said though the new change isn’t a large threat to Pell grant recipients at Mesalands he does understand the concern for students who attend colleges and universities in states where tuition costs are continuously on the rise.

“The change is not going to have the same impact on New Mexico as it would to say like New York, California or Florida,” Klaverweiden said. “We have the lottery which is a blessing because it is awarded based on academics so it isn’t an economic issue for New Mexico as it is for states that make their funds available based on EFC only.”
This year the federal government is spending $11.4 billion on Pell grants for 4.9 million college students, almost one-third of all students in college.

Udall said almost all Pell grant recipients have family incomes under $40,000 a year.
In September the Senate passed an amendment to block the Department of Education’s changes by a vote of 51-44. The final bill is expected to be out of committee in November.

“Making college more affordable is one of the wisest investments the federal government can make. The Department of Education’s changes are unmerited. The reduce the credit that families receive for paying state and local taxes at a time when in fact many Americans are paying more taxes every year,” said Udall, who currently serves on the Democratic Education Task Force.