Canton Repository

May 15, 2003

More financial aid needed for college

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Without financial aid, Canton native Sonia Abuzakhm would not have been able to attend Ohio State University, the senior honors student told a congressional panel Wednesday.

Abuzakhm, a chemistry major, urged an appropriations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, to increase the cap on individual federal Pell grants from $4,050 to $4,500.

“Since I was a child, my parents have encouraged me to do well in school, so that it would be possible for me to attend college,” said Abuzakhm, whose father Elias, an immigrant from Syria, is a filter operator for Canton City Water Department. “However, without the support of the federal government, I, along with millions of other students, would not be able to afford a college education.”

Regula, whose subcommittee finances federal education initiatives, said later that the $4,500 request is unrealistic.

“It’s just not there,” he said. “We’ll be lucky if we can do $4,050.”

Abuzakhm testified on behalf of Ohio State University and the American Council of Education, which favor increased federal support for Pell grants.

They have targeted Pell grants for increases because they help the most-needy students, said Natala K. Hart, director of financial aid at Ohio State. She said 80 percent of the recipients of Pell grants come from families with incomes below $30,000.

The administration has proposed $12.7 billion to help an estimated 4.9 million students with Pell grants next year. The White House wants to cap the grants at $4,000, the maximum last year.

Abuzakhm, who plans to attend medical school, said federal aid to higher education is even more important now because financially strapped states are unable to provide as much aid to colleges and universities.

A combination of federal and state aid and a university scholarship covered 80 percent of Abuzakhm’s educational costs, Hart said. Abuzakhm also earned money working a few hours a week as a calculus tutor. At Ohio State, about 20,000 of the 58,000 students receive Pell grants. About 60 percent of them receive some form of financial aid, Hart said.

Regula, a supporter of Pell grants, said his subcommittee will recommend a maximum of $4,000 for Pell grants “or we might do a little more depending on” available funding. Congress will make the ultimate decision on funding for the program based partly on proposals from the subcommittee chaired by Regula and its counterpart in the Senate.

As a result of more students going to college at a time when the economy is sluggish, the program has run up a $2 billion deficit in the last couple of years. The administration plan includes $1.9 billion to erase the deficit.

Regula said the administration proposed $4,000 “so we can spread the money around a little farther to meet the increased demand of students.”

About 4.5 million students receive Pell grants, which average $2,400. The grants are issued to students based on financial need and are used to pay education-related expenses.