The interest rate on federally subsidized student loans will remain at a discounted 3.4 percent, but fewer people will be able to use them.

Last week, Congress reached an agreement on keeping the interest rate for new subsidized Stafford Loans at 3.4 percent, instead of 6.8 percent, passing a one-year extension on the current discounted rate.

President Obama made a big push in the spring and summer to keep the interest rate from doubling. In his 10-year budget request, the president had originally only requested a one-year extension on the lower rate, which carried a $6 billion price tag. To pay for it, Congress made a few changes to federal student aid.

Students enrolling in college for the first time after July 1, 2012 must have a high school diploma or GED to be eligible for federal student aid. Graduate and professional students are no longer able to obtain subsidized federal student loans; they will only be able to get unsubsidized federal loans.

There are also changes to the grace period -- the 6 months after graduating college before a student must begin repayment of their student loans. According to the Project on Student Debt:

New subsidized Stafford loans issued in 2012-13 will accrue interest during the six-month "grace period" after students leave school. This will also be the case for loans issued in 2013-14. However, the federal government will continue to cover the grace-period interest for all subsidized Stafford loans issued before July 1, 2012, and the grace-period subsidy is scheduled to go back into effect for loans issued on or after July 1, 2014.

Pell grants will still have a maximum grant award of $5,550, but students will only be able to use them for 12 semesters instead of 18 semesters. This change is effective to all students, including those close to graduating.

There could be more changes for Pell grants ahead too, as the Ed Money Watch blog notes:


Temporary funding for the Pell Grant program runs out next year and the maximum grant is scheduled to drop by about half in 2014. But $6 billion – the same amount the president convinced Congress to spend on the interest rate extension – would stop that from happening. Why weren’t student aid advocates up in arms that the president challenged Congress to find $6 billion for the interest rate fix over Pell Grants? Even the Washington Post said that the president had his priorities wrong.

Earlier on HuffPost:

How Obama's Proposed Budget Affects College Students:
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  • Rein In Costs

    President Obama's FY 2013 budget <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9SSL9BO1.htm" target="_hplink">would create</a> a $1 billion "Race to the Top" fund for colleges. In addition, Obama is seeking a $55 million to fund the "First in the World" program for colleges that "encourage productivity and efficiency." Obama is also proposing to <a href="http://today.seattletimes.com/2012/02/uws-young-praises-obamas-higher-ed-budget-initiatives/" target="_hplink">increase federally funded research</a> at universities in certain areas. The National Institutes of Health would see no funding increase, for instance, but new <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/13/some-details-proposed-obama-budget-higher-ed-2013#ixzz1mJ04pvbi" target="_hplink">policies would increase</a> the money available for grants by 7 percent. Other <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Table-Details-of-Obamas/130771/" target="_hplink">research areas</a> would see between 1 percent and as much as a 110 percent increase in funding grant spending.

  • Community Colleges

    Obama's budget offers an <a href="http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/obamas-higher-education-agenda/31515" target="_hplink">$8 billion proposal</a> to encourage colleges and businesses to work together to train 2 million workers in high-growth industries. Obama would include <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/13/some-details-proposed-obama-budget-higher-ed-2013#ixzz1mJ04pvbi" target="_hplink">financial incentives</a> to ensure that students find permanent jobs. <a href="http://insidehighered.com" target="_hplink">Inside Higher Ed</a> reports the money would also support paid internships for low-income college students.

  • For-Profit Colleges

    Some of the president's budget initiatives would <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-14/obama-proposes-2-5-increase-in-spending-on-education.html" target="_hplink">shut out for-profit</a> colleges. Obama would enact <a href="http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/obamas-higher-education-agenda/31515" target="_hplink">stricter rules on for-profit colleges</a>. For-profits <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/13/some-details-proposed-obama-budget-higher-ed-2013" target="_hplink">would not be eligible</a> for money from the "Race to the Top" or "First in the World" programs, nor would they get any research grants. During <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/for-profit-college-mitt-romney-obama_n_1217169.html" target="_hplink">Obama's tenure</a>, for-profits have increasingly come under scrutiny by the administration and been subject to investigations by Congress.

  • Pell Grants

    The maximum Pell grant award would be bumped up by a hair to $5,635, an increase of $85. Pell grants have not been adjusted to the cost of college over the <a href="http://www.demos.org/data-byte/maximum-pell-grant-percentage-college-costs" target="_hplink">past 30 years, but were <a href="http://thehill.com/homenews/house/174253-house-conservatives-angry-over-pell-grant-funding-in-boehner-debt-bill" target="_hplink">spared during 2011 budget negotiations</a>.

  • Other Financial Aid

    Obama's budget would increase spending on the federal work study program <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Table-Details-of-Obamas/130771/" target="_hplink">by 15 percent</a>. The president is also calling for suspending a student loan interest rate <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/13/some-details-proposed-obama-budget-higher-ed-2013#ixzz1mJ04pvbi" target="_hplink">scheduled to double</a> this summer. Inside Higher Ed <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/01/30/obama-higher-education-plan-signals-policy-shift" target="_hplink">reports</a> the funding formula for the Perkins federal student loan program would be "revamped" to push colleges to keep net tuition low and provide "good value." That value would be based on the ability of graduating students to get jobs and pay off their loans, as well as a school serving a higher proportion of low-income students. Obama is also requesting a 390 percent increase in teacher education assistance, upping the allocation from $41 to $201 million. This is particularly tailored <a href="http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/obamas-higher-education-agenda/31515" target="_hplink">to train more</a> science and math teachers.