College Aid the Hard Way

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Something's amiss in the federal college aid program known as Pell Grants, which are aimed at low-income and minority students.

A recent Government Accountability Office report finds the government doesn't know how aware students are of this resource. Another report, released last year by the American Council on Education, noted that in 1999 some 850,000 undergraduates who looked as if they might be eligible for Pells didn't bother to complete the application form. (The form can now be completed on the web at www.fafsa.ed.gov.) And another GAO report released last month concluded that a recent change in the way the government calculates financial need would deny Pells to some 81,000 students who might otherwise qualify.

But the need for such aid only grows. A 2003 Department of Education study found students borrowed an average of $19,300 for an undergraduate degree, compared with $12,100 just seven years earlier. That's a strong case to increase Pell Grants, as the Bush administration proposes.

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Too many families are feeling the burden of high tuition costs. Congress should increase the Pell Grant allotment, and make a move soon to help get the word out about this financial leg up for disadvantaged students.

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