Washington Watch: Feedback on summer Pell program

The year-round Pell Grant has kicked into full implementation mode.

The first full cycle of its reinstatement ends on June 30, with the new award year starting on July 1, when the maximum Pell Grant increases to $6,095, from the current $5,920. (The House education appropriations subcommittee wants to freeze the maximum for the next award year at $6,095. Senate action is scheduled for this week.)

Preliminary reports indicate widespread usage of the new eligibility.

AACC’s survey

Policymakers want to know which students and colleges are capitalizing on the new Pell Grant eligibility. As the primary advocates for this policy, community colleges have a vested interest in conveying to legislators the impact of this change, both in terms of the number of additional Pell Grants awarded as well as any correlated enrollment increases.

To gather the information needed to tell this story, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has developed a brief online survey. The association urges its members to participate, as AACC plans to craft a short document summarizing the results. (We won’t identify specific institutions or states.)

It is always desirable to thank legislators for taking positive actions and we hope that, in this case, the thanks can be grounded in information telling a very positive story. Institutions and others should be able to provide this information relatively easily.

More background on Pell

The Pell Grant program remains the most important program for community colleges and their students. This maximum Pell Grant greatly exceeds the average community college tuition and fees ($3,570, as of fall 2017). While these costs are only a fraction of the total education-related expenses, Pell has far more purchasing power at community colleges than any other sector of higher education.

Community college student participation in the program has declined dramatically since the peak of the  last recession. The drop has been sharper than in any sector of non-profit higher education and correlates with declining community college enrollments.

Still, the support community college students receive through Pell is staggering. According to the latest National Postsecondary Student Aid Study report, 33.5 percent of all community college students (defined as those enrolled in public two-year institutions) received a Pell Grant in the 2015-16 award year. Nearly 2.5 million students received grants, totaling $8.26 billion; this, in turn, represents almost 15 percent of all revenues received by all two-year colleges that year.

Congress did our students a good deed by reinstating the year-round Pell Grant. We encourage you to provide AACC with the information that will enable us to more fully thank them, and assist the association in future policy development.

About the Author

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