At what earning point does federal college aid become unlikely?

On another forum I read, someone lamented that as an independant single making $27k a year, he was “completely ineligible” to receive aid for college. I find it somewhat difficult to believe that you fail to qualify for any sort of grant or loan at that point but the official sites are rather vague about where it cuts off. They say they compare the estimated cost to what they feel your contribution should be but that’s it.

I’m not really looking to “prove him wrong” because his entire post has the sort of attitude that suggests that even if I posted a dozen links and government charts, he’d still find a reason to say his situation is different. But I am curious about when it becomes unfeasible to assume you’ll get some of Uncle Sam’s help with higher education.

Jophiel, there has been a shift over time on the availability of grant aid compared to loans. The threshold for the largest grant program, the Pell program, is calculated through need and the expected family contribution - it’s explained here. So it would be a combination of what the student could contribute and what his family could contribute, as well as his enrollment status (part-time, full-time, 3/4-time, etc.). Being independent, I don’t know if that’s even part of the equation. Probably not. If he was not a full-time student that right there makes you ineligible for a lot of aid.

The Pell eligibility formula is purposefully vague. It changes year to year, and folks with money and privilege would likely figure out a way to game the system if it was publicized. There are also specific eligibility rules too, so if your friend already has a degree, for instance, he would be ineligible.

There’s generally not much grant aid available from the feds, unfortunately. These programs are constantly under attack. FWIW I was eligible for a Pell as a freshman about 15 years ago. We certainly weren’t rolling in dough but we weren’t eating out of tin cans, either. The next year, with approximately the same income situation, I was ineligible. Go figure…

Studies show that low-income students are most susceptible to price-point fluctuation and may actually bypass higher education due to cost. In reality, the private returns to education (financial, vocational, and even health) suggest that it’s a cost worth incurring. I saw a show where a student decided to attend community college instead of a fairly good liberal arts college because the latter would require him taking out a loan - chances are, this would have been the better decision given the earning differential based on the school’s reputation and quality of education. Low-income loans (like the Perkins) are almost always worth it for a four-year bachelor’s degree. The repayment terms are fairly reasonable and can even be forgiven if one teaches in certain communities, for instance.