Florida students struggling to pay college tuition and fees will get a little help from the federal government this year.
The maximum award for Pell grants, which help pay for tuition for low-income students, increased to $6,195 on July 1, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It represents an 0.16 percent increase over the $6,095 maximum award in the 2018-19 academic year.
The federally funded Pell grants are important in Florida, where nearly four out of every 10 students attending a public state university relies on them, according to state Board of Governors, the entity that oversees the university system.
Students attending Florida’s state colleges, also known as public community colleges, also benefit from Pell grants, as do kids attending private colleges and other types of schools.
Unlike student loans, the Pell grant — a form of financial aid — doesn’t require students to pay back the grant money.
In the fall of 2016, six of the 11 universities had 39 percent or more of their students receiving Pell grants. Florida A&M University (62.8 percent) and Florida International University (50.4 percent) were at the top, according to the Board of Governors. Florida Polytechnic University, the state’s newest university, was not included in the survey.
Students receive the financial aid after qualifying through a formula that considers the student’s family income and the cost of attending the school. Students from the poorest families are most likely to receive the highest awards.
In the 2016-17 academic year, 27 percent of the Pell recipients across the nation received the maximum award, according to the College Board.
The College Board, best known for administering the SAT college entrance exam as well as rigorous Advanced Placement exams in high school, shows that the increases in the Pell awards nationally have not kept up with the rising cost of tuition.
From the fall of 2008 through 2018-19, tuition and fees at public four-year schools increased annually by 3.1 percent and by 2.3 percent at private schools. But the maximum Pell award only increased by 1.2 percent per year, adjusted for inflation, according to the College Board.
Florida has increased its own need-based aid program in recent years. In the new academic year, the Florida student assistance grants will provide support to some 196,000 students attending public and private schools. The $269 million program will provide an average per-student award of $1,377, according to the most recent report from state analysts.
Florida has also increased support for its major merit-based aid program, Bright Futures, in recent years. But a new law raising qualifying test scores for the Bright Futures program, beginning in 2021, may make it more difficult for minority and poorer students to receive the merit awards.