Recession swells student aid rolls 300,000 more students than expected qualified.

May 21, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Because of the recession, 300,000 more students than expected qualified for federal tuition grants based on need this year, costing the program more than $1.1 billion, Education Secretary Lamar Alexander has told Congress.

Mr. Alexander recommended that the shortfall be made up by reducing funding for the grants, the most widely used college grant program, in the 1993-94 academic year.

The miscalculation probably will delay a proposed $1,300 increase in the maximum Pell grants -- to $3,700 -- that would have taken effect in fall 1993.

No student's grant would be reduced or eliminated in the current year or in the 1992-93 academic year, Mr. Alexander said.

But covering the higher-than-expected costs of the current fiscal year's program would virtually wipe out a $1.2 billion increase in Pell grant funding proposed in the Bush administration's budget for fiscal 1993, which begins Oct. 1. Legislation pending in Congress would authorize the larger grants.

College financial aid officers say the increase is badly needed to help students keep pace with recent tuition increases.

Mr. Alexander told a Senate appropriations subcommittee yesterday that 4 million students received Pell grants this year, 300,000 more than the department estimated last winter when the program's $6 billion budget was prepared. Mr. Alexander said the shortfall was four times greater than the department's estimate just several months ago.

Besides the typical student, workers who lost their jobs returned to the classroom to acquire new skills and required financial assistance to cover the cost, said Becky Timmons, congressional liaison for the Washington-based American Council on Education, a national organization of colleges.

"The Pell grant program typically grows in a recession," Ms. Timmons said. "But we were surprised by the size of this year's growth."

Mr. Alexander offered several other suggestions for partially offsetting the shortfall. He said an estimated $800 million could be saved annually by stepping up efforts to weed out abuses of financial-aid programs. Mr. Alexander said increasing the grant will remain "a goal."

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