- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — President Bush yesterday said he will ask Congress to raise by $500 over five years the maximum amount of a federal grant to help low-income students go to college.

Students should “aim high in life,” Mr. Bush said at Florida Community College at Jacksonville, “and that’s what the Pell Grants can be used for.”

Mr. Bush called for raising the Pell Grant by $100 in each of the next five years. That would put the maximum grant at $4,550 by 2010, up 12 percent from the $4,050 offered today.

The president also said he will ask Congress to reform the student loan program to make it more “effective and efficient” and then use that savings to make up a $4.3 billion shortfall in the program. The president, however, did not detail what changes he planned to propose.

“We intend to use the savings from changing how student loans are granted and administered for closing that deficit,” said Mr. Bush, who was introduced by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In addition, Mr. Bush said he wants to encourage high school students to take rigorous course loads by giving them an additional $1,000 on Pell Grants they could use for college.

Mr. Bush’s trip, part of a series of outings to push his domestic agenda, comes at an awkward time for the Education Department, which paid a company run by prominent black commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the president’s education reform law known as No Child Left Behind. On Thursday, Education Secretary Rod Paige directed his agency to begin a speedy investigation into the contract.

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

Pell Grants, the government’s largest form of financial aid, help low-income students afford college. The grants, received by 5 million students, 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.

Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, said an estimated 2 million students, or about one-third of all community college students, receive Pell Grants.

Higher grants would be welcome relief from rising costs, she said.

In 2004, the average in-state tuition at public, four-year colleges rose 10.5 percent to $5,132, according to the College Board. Tuition at two-year public colleges rose 8.7 percent to $2,076, and at private colleges rose 6 percent to $20,082.

The Pell Grant increase Mr. Bush proposed, however, was below his pledge during the 2000 presidential campaign to raise the maximum award to $5,100. Despite soaring college costs, it has 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 of California, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said Thursday.

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 coupled with eliminating a growing deficit in the program.

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