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College leaders urge Congress to save Pell Grants

University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton joined college leaders Tuesday on Capitol Hill and pleaded for lawmakers to spare funding for Pell Grants.

Pell Grants, which unlike loans don't have to be paid back, help about 10 million lower-income students afford a college education.

In its effort to deal with the nation's debt, Congress is considering cutting the program nearly in half, which could bounce about 1.5 million students off the grants, the Washington Post reported earlier this week.

Morton was in Washington with college leaders from across the country. They were backed by a contingent of students chanting, “You say cut back — we say fight back.”

Many students at the morning event said such a cut would greatly affect them.

“For many students, Pell is the beacon of hope. It is what we have to stay in school,” said Victor Sanchez, a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He graduated with $14,000 in debt, but said the cost of college would have been astronomical for him without the Pell Grants he received.

Currently, the maximum Pell Grant allotment is $5,550 a year, about a third of the yearly cost of most four-year public colleges and universities.

Morton, who grew up poor in Alabama, told the gathering of senators, students and educators that had it not been for federal grant programs, he would not have been able to attend Tuskegee University.

“Without those grants, I would not be here today,” Morton said.

At UMKC, 33 percent of the students depend on Pell Grants to pay for their education, Morton said. In 2008, 2,358 UMKC students received Pell Grants, totaling $6.3 million. Last year, 3,108 students there received a total of $11.9 million.

This year, the university expects Pell Grant disbursements to total $13.2 million.

Pell Grant recipients make a substantial financial contribution to their institutions in tuition dollars. At UMKC this year, these students “contribute 10 percent of our net tuition,” Morton said

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