Financial aid gives students choices

By Haley M. Walker |

If Molly Jane Hammond hadn’t received a Pell Grant, she would probably be fighting in Iraq.

“The military is the only other real economic opportunity for poor kids,” Hammond said. “Higher education is just not guaranteed for poor people.”

Hammond is one of the 477 students at Flagler College to receive a Pell Grant. The U.S. Department of Education provides the federal aid to low-income, undergraduate students based on both individual and family contribution.

The stimulus package will increase Pell Grants for the 2009-2010 academic year by $500 to a maximum of $5,530.

The bill also included a tuition tax credit of $2,500 for individuals making less than $80,000 and families earning less than $160,000.

Ed Moore, president of ICUF, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, said the increased aid would provide more opportunities for low-income students to attend private schools. “It gives students more of an ability to choose their education,” Moore said. “It helps not only those students who would like to attend, but those who are already enrolled as well.”

Wayne Bodiford, director of financial aid for St. Johns River Community College, said he also expects the tax credit and grant increase to help those who come to his office. He noted that approximately 40 percent of the college’s students qualify for the Pell Grant.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Pell Grant is based on a formula created by Congress to indicate the EFC, or expected family contribution. Main elements taken into consideration include student income, parent’s income and assets and household size.
Kara Spoerle, a 20-year-old single mom and student at SJRCC, said after she had her son, the Pell Grant was her only opportunity for her to continue her college career. She hopes to benefit from the increase as she works towards her associate’s degree. “When you cannot afford it, most people would just go to work,” Spoerle said. “The increase will give more people, like me, the opportunity to continue to go to school.”

Spoerle’s mother said without the aid, her daughter may not have had the choice to attend. “This took off a lot of stress for me,” Cindy Spoerle said. “We are now able to live and not have to sacrifice everything.”

Chris Haffner, director of financial aid at Flagler College, said while he recognizes the benefits the stimulus will provide for higher education, he worries that the effects might be offset by possible cuts made to state financial aid.

“As this federal grant is going to go up, it is possible that Florida is going to reduce FRAG and other state grants,” Haffner said. “Therefore, the overall effect might not be as substantial for the needy students here.”

Hammond said she sees the increase as a leveling device for those in need.

“A person’s choices in life should not be arbitrary,” Hammond said. “The world shouldn’t choose where you are going to go, because you cant chose where you are from.”

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