Our tense political and economical environment could mean a nearly $6 billion gap in Pell Grant funding, federal need-based financial aid typically awarded to low-income students. Students could feel this impact as early as the fall of 2011.

In March, student loan legislation passed determined that students can receive a maximum of $5,550 from a Pell grant for the 2010-2011 school year. This decision was supposed to carry over to the 2011-2012 year. However, lawmakers underestimated the number of students needing financial aid – and the number that would qualify for the maximum award – and this miscalculation is putting pressure on the government to provide additional funding to close the gap.

According to the College Board, the average Pell grant in 2009-2010 was $3,646 and roughly 25% of the 7.7 million students receiving a Pell grant qualified for the maximum award.

If Congress elects not to cover the gap, the maximum award amount would likely decrease more than $800, affecting the number of applicants eligible to receive funding based on income standards.

For more on this story, please visit the Wall Street Journal online.