On campus beat: Grant cuts leave students hanging

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2012 - 5:50 PM

Charlanda Crutchfield is close.

After starting college, stepping out, starting again, completing a two-year degree and transferring to Metropolitan State University, she's one year away from a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. But finishing just got tougher.

Crutchfield is one of about 100,000 collegians nationwide losing eligibility for Pell grants, which help millions of low-income families afford college.

"I've come this far," she said. "I've finally decided to do something. And now to think that I can't." She trailed off.

A new six-year limit on Pell grants, passed by Congress in December, went into effect this week. Previously, students were limited to nine years of eligibility. The new rule applies to all students, including those a semester away from graduation.

Crutchfield first heard of the cuts in a letter from the federal government. Her first thought: "What am I going to do?"

"To leave students so close to the finish line makes no sense," said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, "after they and we, as taxpayers, have invested so much time and resources in helping them get a college degree."

Her organization had pushed for the new rule to apply to students enrolling after July 1, so they could plan accordingly.

The new limit disproportionately affects black students, who made up 24 percent of Pell grant recipients overall in 2007-08 but 41 percent of those who received Pell grants for more than six years, according to the institute. The group also predicts that more students who transferred from community colleges will be affected.

While taking classes, Crutchfield, 31, works full time and raises two children in Maplewood. She plans to apply for private loans to finish her four-year degree.

She has something to shoot for. Her son will soon start his senior year of high school in North St. Paul, and she's determined to graduate with him.

"We're going to do a big thing," she said.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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