Back in February the U.S. Department of Education set the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 for the 2011-12 academic year, but the program might still be subject to cuts.

Also in February U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5th), the Republican chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, threatened to cut the program, saying Pell, which provides federal money for low-income students to go to college, “would not be exempt from Republican proposals to slash the federal budget.”

Well we’ve now got that Republican proposal (right). Guess what? Congressional Republicans propose cutting $6 billion from the program. Such cuts, if enacted, would bring the maximum Pell Grant award down to $4,705.

The timing of this is particularly troublesome, writes Daniel de Vise in the Washington Post, because:

Quite apart from the merits of cutting Pell or not cutting Pell… the vast majority of large state institutions have already told admitted students how much aid they are likely to expect, including Pell grants. Many students have already chosen colleges based partly on available aid.

Students generally have to make college decisions by May 1, but right now Americans don’t really know how much Pell will award.

Cutting Pell grants, federal money available only students from low-income families are generally used as a proxy for the number of poor students in a school, would dramatically reduce educational opportunities for those who need it most. What’s more, a cut would hurt such potential students at precisely the moment that they most need to have Pell determined. That’s because they need these grants to continue their educations. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer