Federal grants for needy students have survived.
After months of congressional negotiations over funding for Pell grants, including threats of deep cuts, it appears the program's maximum award will remain at $5,500 a year.
But with it comes several adjustments to eligibility, including fewer semesters in which a student can receive the grants -- down from 18 to 12.
"From my point of view, it's mostly nibbles around the edges," said Tricia Grimes, policy analyst for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. "The effect of the earlier House bill would have been much more substantial."
Geoff Dittberner, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, said that "for me, personally, as a part-time student, [the change to semester eligibility] significantly affects my ability to receive future aid."
He said his organization, which represents students at public two-year colleges, is "seriously concerned" about that and other tweaks. But, he notes, "the changes are not as drastic as previous bills."
Indeed, those in higher ed are breathing a collective sigh of relief -- for the second time this year. The Pell grant program, which helps millions of low-income families afford college, also had a close call in August, during battles over the deal to raise the debt ceiling.
But then, like now, some students were nicked. Organizations such as the Education Trust warn that the cuts to eligibility "will hit some of America's most disadvantaged college students in the hardest."
The new law also eliminates a grace period on subsidized federal student loans, starting in July. No longer will qualifying students get six months after graduation during which they don't have to pay interest.
Grimes said she is surprised that the change hasn't gotten more attention because it will cost some students several hundred dollars more. "That will be a big deal to those students who take out loans for four or five years."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168