Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

Funding for the Federal Pell Grant is short $5.7 billion this year, after Congress underestimated the number of students who would request aid and the amount of money they would require. Currently, 39 percent of UC undergraduates — 70,000 students — receive the Pell Grant, according to the University of California website.

Unlike a loan the Pell Grant does not have to be repaid.

The amount of money awarded depends on students’ individual circumstances. For the 2010–2011 school year, the expected maximum amount of money to be distributed was $5,500. However, with the new reductions, the amount of money to be distributed for 2011 and the next school year is $4,705. This equals a 15 percent decrease and an approximate $845 taken off of every Pell Grant awarded.

UCSC student Jamiee Cook, a first–year from Kresge, has received the Pell Grant for two quarters now.

“I already get a lot of financial aid, so my tuition and housing will still be covered. But [because of the Pell Grant downsize] I’m going to have to find other means to pay for school supplies like books and an i>clicker,” Cook said. “[The Pell Grant reductions] really suck … I already took another loan to cover books this quarter because [the price of] housing is ridiculous here.”

Every year the Pell Grant’s funding must be approved by Congress. One million moderate-income students may lose the Pell Grant, and about 6 million low- and moderate-income students will have smaller grants, said website publisher Mark Kantrowitz.

Pell Grant funding shortfalls have occurred and been resolved before.

“UC expends a great deal of time and energy advocating for financial support for students,” said Nancy Coolidge, coordinator for government relations for the University of California Office of the President. “We expect and hope that [Congress] will again fund Pell Grants … as the law anticipates they will — a maximum award for 2011–2012 of $5,550.”

As of now, 8,200 students at UCSC stand to lose aid.

“All students who receive need-based financial aid would be affected [by the Pell Grant shortfall] because a decrease in one fund program causes a shift in all of them,” said Jaimie Vargas, director of strategic planning and communication for Student Affairs at UCSC.

Genevieve Hammang, an Oakes first–year who receives the Pell Grant, said she has already witnessed a decrease in financial aid.

“Last year, my expected family contribution with the FAFSA was $3,000 to $6,000,” Hammang said. “This year it is $17,000.”

The expected family contribution is the amount of money that a student’s family will have to pay after all financial aid is taken into account.

For students who do not qualify for private loans and students who do not want them, the only way around an unaffordable education would be to pursue cheaper tuitions at other schools. UCs could potentially lose students to other schools due to their rising expenses and decreasing financial aid. In fact, first–year Cook is planning to leave UCSC next year.

“I’m going to a CSU next year because the tuition there is half of the tuition at a UC,” Cook said.

At least one statewide organization is currently working to solve this problem.

The California Public Interest Research Group [CALPIRG] employs professionals that directly lobby state officials to negotiate the amount of money that goes into education. At UCSC, CALPIRG raises money by encouraging students to add a $5 expense to their tuition each quarter to contribute to financial aid reserves.

“[CALPIRG] will be working to show broad face support for a reinvestment in higher education and to stop the Pell Grant cuts this year,” said UCSC alumna and CALPIRG campus organizer Katie Roper after learning of the Pell Grant cutback.

Roper also said that CALPIRG has a plan for the new year that involves calling UC students to action. With a student board of eight people from different UCs, it plans to fight for higher education by getting its concerns publicized by the media.

“Studies have shown that Californians are apathetic to the degradation of higher education,” Roper said. “But the UC system helps boost the economy.”

UCOP recently stated that it “fully expects Congress to sustain level funding for Federal Pell Grants for 2011–2012.”