BYU is offering a new financial aid program, Cougar Pell Promise, to help incoming freshmen who are Pell Grant-eligible pay tuition for eight semesters starting in the 2021-22 academic school year.
Financial Aid Director Steve Hill said he wants to give students who want to apply peace of mind through the new program. “We want them to take a good look at BYU and not discount us out of hand because they don’t think they can afford it,” he said. “This makes it affordable for everybody.”
According to a page on BYU’s enrollment services website, the Cougar Pell Promise is not a loan, grant or scholarship but “a university guarantee to cover any remaining gaps in undergraduate Latter-day Saint tuition charges after grants, scholarships and benefits are received for eight semesters.”
According to the website, the initial qualifications are:
- Be admitted to BYU as a freshman student by the first fall semester after high school graduation.
- Complete the online scholarship application by the published scholarship deadline.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the published scholarship deadline and be certified as Pell-eligible.
In order to maintain eligibility, students must:
- Complete the online scholarship application each year by the continuing student scholarship deadline.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year by Jan. 20.
- Maintain a 2.00 cumulative BYU GPA.
- Enroll in a minimum of 12.0 credit hours each semester.
Hill said the reason the Cougar Pell Promise is only available for eight semesters is to stay in line with other programs at the university. Funds from Cougar Pell Promise can’t be used for spring and summer terms.
The government determines who is and isn’t eligible for a Pell Grant based on information the student fills out on FAFSA, and a student’s financial situation with their parents at home often determines whether or not they are eligible.
According to Scholarships.com, students whose total family income is $50,000 a year or less qualify for the Pell Grant, but a majority of Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income under $20,000. BYU spokesperson Todd Hollingshead said 16.9% of students admitted to BYU in Fall 2019 and enrolled that semester received Pell Grants.
If incoming students aren’t Pell Grant eligible because of their parents’ financial situation, regardless of whether or not their parents are helping them financially, they will not qualify for the Cougar Pell Promise.
Hill said there had to be a distinction made. Some students’ parents make enough money to help the students financially, but choose not to. The Cougar Pell Promise will only help students whose parents don’t have a choice of whether or not to help them based on income.
If students don’t qualify their first semester but become eligible for the Pell Grant later on they also won’t be eligible to receive the funds from Cougar Pell Promise. Hill said there are other financial aid programs to help students in those situations.
Hill said marital status doesn’t factor into who can qualify. The program assists both single and married students, on the condition that they are eligible directly after high school. Non-member students attending BYU can also qualify, but the program will only cover the cost of Latter-day Saint tuition. Non-member students who apply and are eligible will have to make up the difference.
According to Hill, the funding will come from the school’s need-based scholarship programs, which is money The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives the financial aid office to help students with financial need. Some of the money will also come from private donors who have specified they want their donation to go to students who need financial aid.
There is no money set aside for the program yet, but Hill said the financial aid office will take some of the funds from existing programs and repurpose them to build a fund for the Cougar Pell Promise. At this time, Hill said he is unsure how much money will be set aside.
Hill has an estimate of how many students BYU is expecting to help with this program but said that information is not going to be made public yet, simply because the financial aid office doesn’t know for sure and has no way of predicting what needs will look like next year, especially with COVID-19.