Bush proposes Pell Grant increase

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush is proposing to raise the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 over the next five years and fix a persistent shortfall in the nation’s chief college aid program, The Associated Press has learned.

That would put the maximum grant at $4,550 by 2010 – up 12 percent from the $4,050 offered today.

The White House declined to disclose whether the president wants to increase the grants received by more than 5 million low-income students, but congressional and education officials familiar with the details of his proposal said Thursday that Bush will call for raising the Pell Grant award $100 a year for five years.

Pell Grants, the government’s largest form of financial aid, help low-income students afford college. The grants range from $400 to $4,050, depending on students’ financial need, their cost to attend school and whether they are enrolled part-time or full-time.

News of an increase comes as Bush prepares to send a new budget to Congress next month that the administration promises will include cuts in domestic programs. Presidents frequently emphasize spending increases for politically popular programs to take the sting out of painful trimming they’ve done in the federal budget.

While welcomed by both Democrats and Republicans, the Pell Grant increase Bush is expected to propose Friday during his visit to Florida Community College at Jacksonville is shy of his pledge when he first ran for president.

On the campaign trail in 2000, Bush vowed to raise the maximum award to $5,100. Despite soaring college costs, it’s been stuck at $4,050 for three years.

"Four years after making – and breaking – a campaign promise to raise the value of the Pell Grant, I hope President Bush is finally willing to make good on that promise," Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said in a statement issued Thursday.

"I also hope he is ready to offer a serious solution to the shortfall in funding for Pell Grants. … My concern is that the president will rob Peter to pay Paul – increase money for Pell Grants by cutting funding for other important education programs. That is not a workable solution."

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents colleges, said his group would be happy with any increase in the Pell Grant award, especially if it is coupled with eliminating a growing deficit in the program.

"If true, these proposals would mark the most significant development in the Pell Grant program since it was created 30 years ago," Hartle said. "The higher education community would vigorously applaud this action."