Federal student aid waning as needs increase

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Federal student aid is becoming harder to come by across the country, as government scholarships and the eligibility criteria for financial aid have been reduced.

The largest source of federal financial aid, the Pell Grant, recently increased its eligibility criteria, making it harder for students to qualify. Eligibility is determined by financial need and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the standard formula. Students need a EFC of 0 to be eligible for the maximum Pell grant.

More families are also applying for financial aid during tough economic times. More than 21 million families filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2010-11 academic year, up 49 percent from the 2009-10 school year, according to the United States Department of Education.

Pell Grants are given out to undergraduate students who have financial need, and do not have to be paid back to the government. The maximum amount of Pell Grant money a student could receive for the 2010-11 school year was $5,550.

Some students have stopped trying to receive Pell Grants due to the strict eligibility requirements.

Carolyn Piggot, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she receives federal student aid but not a Pell Grant.

“I applied (for a Pell Grant) freshman year but was not eligible,” Piggot said. She has not applied for a Pell grant again because of the competitiveness.

“(Tuition) restricts the number of students who can come (to Marquette),” Piggot said. “Everyone should be able to attend (regardless of finances).”

The number of Marquette students applying for need-based aid also continues to increase.

For the 2011-12 academic year, about 75 percent of full-time undergraduates applied for need-based financial aid. Four years earlier, during the 2008-09 school year, only 70 percent of those students applied for need-based aid. The percentage of applicants who receive aid has remained at about 80 percent during the same four-year period.

The decreasing amount of federal student aid stems from the nation’s fiscal situation.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) said in an email that in the last fiscal year alone, Washington added $1.3 trillion to the nation’s debt, which now exceeds the size of the American economy.

“This mountain of debt threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations,” Johnson said.

Federal aid remains one of the main sources of monetary assistance for Marquette students. For the 2011-12 school year, Marquette students were awarded more than $6.8 million in need-based federal student aid.

Institutional scholarships and grants — those offered by Marquette — are the largest source of aid for students. For the 2011-12 year, Marquette awarded its students more than $59 million in assistance. This did not include athletic awards or tuition waivers.

Students who are able to receive federal aid are grateful.

Connor Showalter, a freshman in the College of Business Administration, received the maximum Pell grant for the 2011-12 school year.

“It made it a lot easier for me to attend Marquette,” Showalter said. He said he has not filled out the FAFSA for next year but hopes to receive the maximum grant again.

“I’ll get mad (if I do not receive the maximum Pell grant), but I will still go here,” Showalter said.

Simone Smith contributed reporting to this story.

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