More Florida college students get Pell grants

Dec 29, 2013 by

pell grantsThe number of state-university students receiving Pell grants has soared in recent years — an indication that more Floridians are having trouble affording rising education costs.

Almost 40 percent of public-university undergraduate students got Pell grants last year, according to the most recent data available from the university system. That’s up from 22 percent six years earlier. Florida’s community colleges also saw a similar spike in recent years.

Federal Pell grants are based on financial need and course load. They generally pay for only a portion of school.

Still, the grants are a critical source of help for students such as Renee and Robyn Mowatt, 21-year-old twins from Orlando who attend Florida A&M University.

The sisters already work together to stretch their money. For example, Renee, a public-relations major, and Robyn, who’s studying magazine production, share textbooks when they take the same journalism classes.

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Each receives about $2,000 in Pell grants each semester. That’s money that their mother, who supports her family of four as a social worker, does not have.

“For me, it pretty much covers my tuition — or at least half my tuition for the year,” Renee Mowatt said in a phone interview from New York, where she is interning during the winter break. “It’s a big help. Less loans I have to worry about.”

The recession and Florida’s slow economic recovery are among the main reasons for the surge in Pell participation, experts say. People lost their jobs as the state’s manufacturing and construction sectors crumbled. At the same time, the low-wage tourism industry has grown, said University of Central Florida economist Mark Soskin.

As incomes fell and tuition and other education costs rose, more people — recent high school graduates as well as adults wanting to return to school to learn new skills — qualified for the free aid.

Soskin said Metro Orlando’s median pay now ranks last among the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.

“We were poor, and now we’ve actually gotten poorer,” he said.

In 2011-12, the U.S. Department of Education distributed $34 billion in Pell grants that averaged $3,555 per person. The maximum a student can receive this school year is $5,645.

A report released last month by the Institute for College Access & Success estimated that next year’s maximum Pell will cover the smallest share of college costs since the Pell program was launched 30 years ago.

That’s bad news for Pell recipients, who some studies show already are more likely to graduate with debt. They also are more likely to drop out.

Pedro Villarreal III, an education professor at the University of Florida who specializes in education finance, said Pell students often have to work while they go to school to pay their bills. Some have families to raise.

“One of the most powerful indicators of success is how much time you have available to study,” he said. “And if you spend most of your time working instead of studying, then that’s not very good.”

via More Florida college students get Pell grants – Orlando Sentinel.

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