Federal Pell Grant Eligibility Changes for 2011-2012

Written by Michael Bennet

The Pell Grant as a financial aid award is continuing to evolve on a yearly basis, and the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years have been no exception. While the SAFRA legislation implemented many of the changes that are listed below in 2010-11, a recent vote in Congress has reformed the Pell Grant program once again, stripping away a student’s ability to get two awards during the 2011-12 school year.

This is the only major Pell Grant eligibility change that has been initiated so far by the recent Congressional vote to my knowledge, and my readers should understand that all of the other modifications that are included in this article are still valid. Again the one major change that is going to be implemented for the 2011-12 school year is the dropping of a student’s ability to get two Pell Grant awards for any one particular school year.

The maximum Pell Grant amount, EFC threshold, and application process is still going to remain the same as of right now, and while students can still receive a Pell Grant for the summer terms, such an award cannot be received during the previous spring, winter, or fall semesters to do so.

SAFRA: The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility ACT

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility ACT, or SAFRA, was signed into law on March 30, 2010 by President Obama, and with it has come a number of significant changes to the Pell Grant. The most critical revisions have to do with the maximum EFC cutoff threshold, and the maximum Pell Grant amount, as both of these have been increased for the 2010-11 school year.

The maximum EFC cutoff threshold has been raised to 5,273 from 4,617, and will therefore make the Pell Grant available to thousands of more students during 2010-2011. Remember that this cutoff threshold is the maximum EFC value that you can exhibit in order to gain a positive Pell Grant eligibility status, and any student with an EFC that is lower than 5,273 will now be able to qualify for a Pell Grant.

The maximum Pell Grant amount has also been increased as a result of the SAFRA legislation, and now stands at 5,550 dollars for the 2011-2012 school year. It was already scheduled to go up from 5,350 dollars, to 5,500 dollars, so the additional fifty dollar increase isn’t much, but it is something.

Other Recent Changes Not Related to SAFRA

Three of the other major changes to the Pell Grant have to do with the amount of enrollment hours that you must complete in order to become eligible for the award, whether or not you can receive the Pell Grant if you are going to class during non-traditional times of the year, such as during the summer semesters, and how many Pell Grant awards you can get during any particular academic year.

Enrollment Status

As far as enrollment hours go, the minimum requirement that was binding has now been eliminated, and you should now be able to receive the Pell Grant even if you are going to school on a half-time, or less-than-halftime basis. You can therefore receive a Pell Grant even if you are only taking only one or two classes, as the number of credits you are taking no longer affects your eligibility for the Pell Grant.

Summer Pell Grants

As was previously stated, you can now receive the Pell Grant even if you are going to school during the summer with the current changes. It shouldn’t matter if you are going to school according to some other kind of non-traditional semester format either, as this is no longer a requirement.

Because of the recent Congressional vote, students will not be able to receive two Pell Grant awards during any one particular school year, and will thus not be able to receive a Summer Pell Grant if they already received a full award during the previous spring, winter, or fall semesters. It is still possible to get a summer Pell Grant award, as long as the student didn’t exhaust their Pell Grant aid during the other semesters throughout the year.

Pell Grant Future and Beyond

The original SAFRA bill contained several provisions that weren’t included in the final bill that was signed into law. Because of this, it wouldn’t be surprising to see new legislation enacted that would push through these other provisions that were left behind over the next few years. Check back with this site when you hear anything about such changes in the future, and remember that it is still crucial to apply via the FAFSA, the official Pell Grant application, by June 30.

The recent Congressional vote in the winter-spring of 2011 has impacted the Pell Grant program, most notably by eliminating a student’s ability to get two Pell Grant awards during any one particular school year. This will start to be implemented for the 2011-12 school year, and it remains to be seen what other Pell Grant changes may be handed down as a result of this legislation.

To my knowledge maximum award amounts and the eligibility criteria will remain the same, and I will update this site as I find out about any other major changes that may be enacted as a result of this recent Congressional vote.

Update. Please view this post about the 2011-2012 Pell Grant cuts to learn more about the impact this Congressional vote has had on the Pell Grant program.