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Archive for Thursday, February 5, 2004

Event to focus on money for college

February 5, 2004

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April Merino-Brammell was hoping federal financial aid would help her pay for her education at Kansas University.

But the Lawrence High School senior was notified this week that her request had been denied.

"That would have been nice," Merino-Brammell said. "I guess I'm relying on KU to get money now."

Increasing the availability of financial aid for students such as Merino-Brammell will be on the minds of college financial aid officials as they gather this weekend for College Goal Sunday, an event designed to help students fill out their federal aid forms.

The event runs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University. It's one of 15 sites across Kansas to play host to the event Sunday.

This is the first year Lawrence has been a host site for College Goal Sunday, which is sponsored by USAFunds, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Lumina Foundation.

Volunteers from universities will be on hand to help seniors and their families complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Four $250 scholarships also will be awarded to randomly selected students.

Federal aid is a perennial issue for college administrators and high school seniors, but it has moved to the forefront nationally in recent months with the upcoming presidential campaign.

President Bush's proposed budget would keep the maximum amount of Pell Grants at $4,050 per year, the same as the past two years. Studies have shown the buying power of the Pell Grant has been cut nearly in half in the past 25 years.

Federal Pell Grants are only awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or professional degree. They are based on need and, unlike student loans, do not have to be repaid. Need is determined by the information provided on the FAFSA.

Critics of Bush's budget, including former Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, have said keeping the maximum amount at $4,050 didn't make sense, considering universities were raising tuition at record rates to counteract state budget cuts.

Lieberman proposed increasing the Pell Grant maximum to $7,760.

At KU, officials have set aside 20 percent of money from tuition increases for need-based financial aid for the university's neediest students. KU's current in-state tuition and fees are $2,050.25 per semester for a student taking 15 credit hours. That's up $608, or 42 percent, from the 2001-2002 school year.

Brenda Maigaard, KU's director of student financial aid, said the stagnant Pell Grants could be limiting the ability of some students to attend college.

"I think we have many students that are financially needy, and the greater the Pell Grant, the more opportunities they have to complete their college education," Maigaard said. "We want to make sure college is accessible to all students, regardless of their economic status."

Linda Allen, counselor at Lawrence High School, said she also had seen the need for increased federal financial aid. She said an increasing number of students were completing the FAFSA form, a result, she suspected, of the downturn in the economy.

"I do think that, obviously, Pell Grants are not enough for a lot of students," Allen said. "We're very fortunate in Lawrence that we have the university here. Kids can -- if they have to -- live at home and go to school. The Pell Grant would cover a good portion or all of tuition."

Allen said she also would advocate changing the Pell Grant grid to include more money for students from middle-class homes. Pell Grants are awarded on a sliding scale based on cost of attendance at a school and expected family contribution.

But such a change would likely take a hefty increase in funding to the $12 billion federal program.

"I kind of wonder sometimes if lowering the barrier might help some people," she said. "You have significantly less money for less needy kids. But then you might be lowering the opportunity for the poorest students to even get to college."

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