Pell Grant Backers Rally to Fight GOP Funding Cuts to Low-Income Students

Pell grant
Pell grant

More than 1 million of America's poorest college students may have to take out bigger loans, find another way to pay tuition, or drop out in 2012, if Republican budget cuts are passed that shrink the government's Pell grant program. The federal program provides low-income students with direct financial aid for higher education.

Supporters of Pell grants are mobilizing in an online rally Monday for "Save Pell Day." More than 1,200 supporters have already signed up on Facebook, sharing support and stories about how the grant program helped them to get their college degrees.

At issue is a GOP budget proposal that slashes funding for the education program, and could cut the maximum amount of aid by as much as 45%. Currently, Pell grants provide a maximum of $5,550 per student. One GOP budget proposal would limit eligibility requirements and cap funding at an average of $3,040 per student for the 2012-2013 academic year.

More than 9.6 million students will receive a Pell grant in the upcoming academic year at a cost of $35 billion to the government. That number has increased since 2008 as the economic downturn has sent many more people back to school. Under the plan proposed by Tea Party favorite Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.), nearly 1.4 million students would lose their access to the funding, according to the Education Trust, an education advocacy group.

"It will be really difficult for some and impossible for others [to pay for college]," Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust, told DailyFinance.

Pell grants cover only one-third of the cost of tuition at the average four-year public college. For those students who qualify for them, the remainder is typically financed by scholarships, financial aid, loans and students' work incomes. The federal budget compromise passed in April eliminated funding for summer grants starting in 2012.

"Students have given once this year," added Wilkins. "Cutting Pell again is asking a lot of students, especially at a time when costs for education are so high."

A recent article in The Hufffington Post reported that the average college student graduates with more than $27,000 in loan debt. Three million students, or 14% of all undergraduates, take out private loans to pay for tuition.