Low-income students face cuts to financial aid, programs in federal budget deal

Friday, April 29, 2011 | 12:49 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 29, 2011

COLUMBIA — A federal budget bill passed earlier this month made substantial cuts to financial aid programs available to low-income students nationwide.

TRIO grant programs will lose $25 million, second disbursements of Pell Grants will be ended for the 2011-12 school year and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants will be trimmed by $20 million, according to the budget bill.

More than 10,000 MU students are eligible for these three programs.

James Spain, director of MU's Student Success Center, described the funding situation as "something of a perfect storm." The university is seeing increasing numbers of students in need of the services these cuts affect, he said.

MU receives $626,935 from the federal TRIO grant, established to provide assistance for low-income and first-generation college students, according to the Department of Education's website.

Another $100,000 is dedicated to scholarship funds for qualifying students, whose financial need is based on 150 percent of the poverty level.

“We know the TRIO grant improves the retention rates and the six-year graduation rates of the students it serves,” Spain said. “If we are cutting student services, we would be concerned about the negative impact.”

Although the Department of Education hasn't yet determined how to implement the cuts, a 2.9 percent reduction across the board would trim about $18,200 from what MU receives, according toCarol Howald, director of the university's TRIO CATS program.

Run by the MU Student Success Center, TRIO CATS provides academic advising and one-on-one tutoring to eligible students. More than 3,500 students qualify for the program, but only about 700 students take advantage of it each year, Howald said. She stressed the importance of the program and the effect it has on students.

“The better their success rate is at MU, the better able they will be to graduate, meet the loan obligations many of them are incurring, and contribute back to society,” Howald said.

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