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More Grants for the Middle-Class?
By Emily Zaborniak
The middle class definitely considers its status intermediate when it comes to facing tuition costs. Most families do not make enough to pay for rising expenses but, at the same time, earn too much to qualify for certain grants and financial aid. As a result of a recent proposal made by state higher education officials, the latter circumstance may change for New England families.

The new financial aid plan would allow the middle class to gain eligibility for grants that are currently allocated to the poorest families. Additionally, students who have taken the proper courses in high school may qualify for fully funded tuition during their first two years at community college.

Giving students money comes at a price. Sarah Schweitzer of The Boston Globe reports that the potential overhaul of the state's college financial aid system will exceed $175 million in costs—$140 million to increase MASSGrant funds and $35 million to fund tuition and fee waivers at community colleges. However, paying this high price may rectify last year's changes to the state's financial aid program, which shifted financial assistance away from the middle class.

According to Schweitzer, "Under the new proposal, families with incomes of $70,000 or less would qualify for the need-based MASSGrant, with additional factors, like family size and number of college students in a family, determining how much grant money would go to which students. The grants can be used for public or private colleges in the state or in the other five New England states, Pennsylvania, or Washington, DC, with which Massachusetts has reciprocal agreements allowing out-of-state students to use their state aid in the other state."

Officials estimate that these changes would benefit 20,000 students whose families' income levels fall between the set income ranges. Partially, the effort aims at persuading middle-class residents to remain in Massachusetts, where the cost of living can be too high for graduates with accumulated debt.

"This is about the economy of Massachusetts," Chancellor Patricia F. Plummer said. "The debt burdens that students are taking on only make living here that much more difficult. We want to try to keep young people here in Massachusetts."

Legislation must decide whether the expenditures are worth the results. "That's a lot of money," said Representative Kevin Murphy, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. "Where are we going to get that kind of money?"

People at all levels are asking the same question. It's a matter of who will make the first move. Decisions made in one section of the country could instigate nationwide reform.

"Joni Finney, Vice President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said that many states are scrambling to assist the middle class in paying for college. Illinois, she said, is considering tax credits for the middle class, while other states, like Georgia, have created merit-based aid programs," writes Schweitzer.

One thing is certain: financial pressure builds for students at many economic levels.


Article Title : More Grants for the Middle-Class?
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