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Grants for rent, not new rims

Funding a college education isn’t easy, even for those who qualify for federal aid.

One federal resource is the Pell Grant – but local education officials want to remind students that monies left over after tuition, fees and books should be spent wisely.

That means, spending it on rent, not new rims.

The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.

At LBW Community College, some 1,214 students received Pell grants for the 2012-2013 school year, totaling nearly $4.3 million.

“And that money is pumped right back into the local economy,” said Donna Bass, LBWCC financial aid director. “The way the program works is that students apply online for funds and are given an award letter, if they qualify, from the college of their choosing.

“Then, the funds are sent to the school and used to cover the balance of their tuition, fees and books,” she said. “Whatever is left, that money is sent to the student and can be used for whatever it takes for the student to live and go to school. It can be used for anything like rent, clothes, gas and food.”

The maximum Pell grant award for a fulltime student is $5,645 per year, or $2,822.50 per semester, Bass said. The award is based on financial need, academic progress, the course of study and the amount of credits earned.

“The tuition and fees for 12 hours at LBWCC, which is considered fulltime, is $1,668,” she said. “Books average about $500, so when the balance is settled here, that’s at least $800 in the student’s pocket.”

A semester is roughly 17 weeks, Bass said.

Bass said it’s a student’s responsibility to make sure colleges receive financial aid information after applying online at fafsa.ed.gov. Students can apply as early as Jan. 1 of each year.

A federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid – unless one does not complete the semester.

“It’s free money – as long as you follow the rules,” Bass said. “If you don’t complete the semester, you could have to repay that money. We call that return of Title IV. You have to made academic progress, and there is a cap on Pell grants now. It’s equivalent of six years of Pell grant funding or 12 semesters. And that’s what makes attending college at LBWCC a good choice for families. It’s quality education at an economical cost.”