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Washington trims Pell Grants: How will students pay fall tuition?

Washington's new austerity may make it harder for low-income students to afford college. Pell Grants are on the chopping block, losing $5.7 billion under the current House proposal.

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Jason Lewis, a junior at Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro, picks up student loan information at the campus financial aid office in this 2004 file photo. With Pell Grants threatened, more students may consider private loans or simply not be able to attend college, some education observers say.

Mark Humphrey / AP / File

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As students plan ahead for college next fall, it’s hard to know exactly how much aid they’ll receive.

The size of Pell Grants for millions of low- to moderate-income college students will be determined by the ongoing budget fight in Washington. The current stopgap resolution expires March 4, and the House passed a proposal Feb. 19 that, among cuts in other areas, would reduce Pell Grants by $5.7 billion for this fall. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph and the subhead above said $61 billion, which is the total amount of funding the entire budget bill cut.]

That would cut the average grant by $785, and would bring down the maximum grant by $845 dollars to $4,705.

The Senate hasn’t acted yet, and there’s talk of a government shutdown if Congress can’t cobble together a spending compromise.

But colleges have already started telling students how much aid they’ll receive, based on figures published Feb. 1 – as required by law – by the US Department of Education.

“Students and parents are in a very tough position right now. [They’re] being asked to make decisions based on financial aid information that might change,” says Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

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