When the United States Senate votes today on the economic stimulus bill, billions of dollars in financial aid will be on the line for America’s college students.

The economic stimulus package currently under consideration by the government carves out billions in funding for the nation’s public higher education institutions, offering University of California students a shot at receiving more federal aid. On Jan. 28, the House of Representatives approved a plan that set aside $150 billion for education and allocated $16 billion for Pell Grants — need-based grants for low-income students. Up for vote today in the Senate is a version of the bill — now totaling $838 billion — that designates a more modest $83 billion to the realm of education, $14 billion of which would be devoted to Pell Grants.

While Congress has yet to hammer out a finalized version of the stimulus package — the two versions will need to be reconciled before President Barack Obama can sign it into law — it is clear the compromise will contain financial assistance for UC students.

Ron Andrade, financial aid director at UCSB, said Pell Grants are critical to many students’ attempting to finance an increasingly costly higher education. UCSB alone, he said, will receive nearly 5,000 Pell Grant recipients this year.

“I think this is a great way for Obama to help college students,” Andrade said. “Pell Grants have not grown by the same amounts that the cost of education has, and could use more funding. By doing this, the money from the stimulus will touch a very large percentage of college students.”

Andrade said students can apply for federal need-based grants by filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. The amount of the federal award is then determined by a mathematical formula based on the student’s household income.

According to Betty Huff, associate vice chancellor for student affairs for UCSB, the reinvigoration of Pell Grants will directly benefit the nation’s college students.

“It will raise the amount of Pell Grants given to students,” Huff said. “The Pell Grants are, of course, federal dollars. They are passed on straight from the U.S. government to the financial aid office. This [stimulus package] will increase the maximum Pell Grant that a student can receive while in school.”

The stimulus package approved by the House would boost the maximum in Pell Grants a student can receive to $5,350 — a $500 increase. The version under consideration in the Senate would raise the Pell Grant ceiling by $400, capping aid at $5,250 per student.

On another front, the stimulus plan allocates funds for colleges that accommodate Stafford Loan programs. Stafford Loans — also known as guaranteed student loans — consist of federal subsidies paid to banks that in turn allow students to take out loans. However, Andrade said the UC system switched from Stafford Loan programs to a direct lending system back in 1996.