UT recipients of Pell Grants rising as cuts threaten funds

Amy Thornton

Although many of the nation’s elite colleges are unsuccessfully recruiting low-income students, the University of Texas has experienced growth in the population of undergraduates receiving Federal Pell Grants, which are designated for low-income students.

An analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education of data from the Department of Education showed less than 15 percent of the undergraduates at the country’s 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-09, a percentage that has not changed since the 2004-05 school year.

However, UT has experienced a growth of 1.7 percent, or 541 more students, on the Pell Grant. Currently, 8,542 UT students — about 21.4 percent — attend the University with the help of a Pell Grant. UT gained more Pell Grant students than its peer institutions, which include Michigan State University, University of Washington and The Ohio State University.

Student Financial Services director Tom Melecki said there are strong concerns about the effects of Congress reducing or eliminating the program and the burden it will place on the University’s neediest students.

“One of the University’s missions is that no qualified student should be prevented from attending the University for financial reasons,” Melecki said. “I think that it has done a terrific job to make sure that’s not the case.”

The federal government gives Pell Grants to the lowest income, highest-need students around, Melecki said.

“Both state and federal financial aid programs have helped me achieve my dream of becoming the first in my family to get a college degree,” said Plan I government and history junior Philip Wiseman.

Wiseman said his decision to come to UT was based off of the financial aid package and scholarships he would receive for coming here rather than elsewhere.

“Financial aid, especially federal, contributes a lot to middle-class America’s ability to send its kids to college,” Wiseman said. “Without it, we’ll revert back to the time when higher education was only accessible for the rich.”

Each Pell Grant is approximately one-fifth of the cost of attending UT for one semester, and the difference is made up using state financial aid and institutional need-based financial aid, Melecki said. This difference highlights the concern about the potential cuts to the state need-based programs.

“We’re seeing more first-generation, low-income students applying, and we’re admitting more of those students,” said Augustine Garza, deputy director in the Office of Admissions. “Which drives the question of whether we can provide financial resources that they need to let them come to UT.”