Washington Watch: Ready to go full throttle

This spring and summer, community colleges will have their first meaningful opportunity to fully implement the year-round Pell Grant eligibility that was reinstated last year in the fiscal year (FY) 2017 appropriations process.

Although year-round Pell was re-established through an annual funding bill, the change is permanent and will remain in effect unless Congress repeals it, which is unlikely. Therefore, campuses can confidently move forward to maximize this new eligibility.

Year-round Pell allows a student to receive more than one Pell Grant in an award year, up to an additional 50 percent of the maximum Pell Grant. (The current grant maximum is $5,920, which increases to $6,095 July 1 due to additional funding from Congress in FY 2018.) The U.S. Education Department has outlined implementation questions for financial aid offices in a Dear Colleague Letter.

Unlike the initial version of year-round Pell that went into effect in summer 2010 and was rescinded a year later, this version is much simpler. Congress this time provided campuses with maximum flexibility to implement this new eligibility, including how to assign summer terms as a “leader” or a “trailer” and the treatment of module courses.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) worked closely with Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) to secure this flexibility. Until it was finally enacted in April 2017, the  year-round Pell was an overriding, longstanding association priority. The community college sector, along with other sectors of higher education and even business and industry, effectively argued that many students simply don’t have the luxury of taking the summer off. Additional grant aid also will support student success strategies.

Leverage its full use

We encourage your institution to engage in the strategic, campus-wide planning necessary to structure programs that achieve two purposes: to help students remain in school and, where appropriate, to enable students to accelerate toward completion of their programs.

The successful implementation of year-round Pell rests on campus-wide cooperation; it is not just the responsibility of the student financial aid office. In many cases, your college may want to restructure academic programs or course offerings to maximize the newly available student aid funding. Campuses should consider notifying current Pell Grant recipients that funding is now available year-round. They should also inform key administrators, student support services, institutional research and IT personnel of the potential for new course demand and enrollment.

Capitol Hill is also closely monitoring the implementation of the new year-round Pell. Therefore, AACC wants to hear about positive (or negative) experiences by your college in implementing this new eligibility for year-round Pell grants. In the meantime, we encourage you to make sure that your full campus community – including the academic side of the house – is engaged in bringing year-round Pell to its full potential.

About the Author

David Baime
David Baime is senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.