Reporter’s notebook

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

  • No go on short-term Pell amendment
  • Bill aims to help with college students’ basic needs
  • Massachusetts college taps HEERF to erase students’ college debt
  • Illinois college offers new students $500 for bookstore

No go on short-term Pell amendment

Hopes to see a bipartisan amendment that would expand Pell Grant eligibility to certain short-term programs attached to a Senate trade bill were dashed this week when Sen. Paul Rand (R-Kentucky) blocked it and other proposed amendments.

The Senate earlier this week passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to address U.S. competitiveness with China in the technology sector. The amendment introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — which was based on their JOBS Act bill — would have extended Pell eligibility to credit and non-credit programs between 150 and 600 clock hours in length. Pell Grant eligibility is currently limited to programs 600 hours or longer.

Advocates of the proposal, which include the American Association of Community Colleges, noted that even though the amendment wasn’t included in the legislation, it is a positive sign that there was bipartisan support for it. Kaine and Portman negotiated with leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to include the amendment, which had some more eligibility criteria.

Bill aims to help with college students’ basic needs

Democrats on Thursday introduced a bicameral bill to help college students meet their basic needs while they pursue their education.

U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-California) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), along with U.S. Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), introduced the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act, which would provide $1 billion for grants to colleges and universities to help them support their students’ most fundamental needs. It also would direct the federal government to streamline data sharing across federal agencies to help students who qualify for aid – particularly Pell Grant recipients and attendees of community colleges and minority-serving institutions – access it.

The BASIC Act would provide for two-year planning grants – up to $50,000 per institution and $40 million in total – for basic needs research and plan development to address unmet needs, including access to food, housing, transportation, child care, health care and technology. It also would provide for implementation grants – up to $1 million per institution and $960 million in total – to implement the plans they develop over five years.

“We cannot let our students go hungry or sacrifice their health in order to afford a higher education,” Padilla said in a release. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the growing crisis of poverty among college and university students. The BASIC Act will help students focus on their goal – graduating. For these students to compete in a modern workforce, we must give them the tools they need to succeed.”

Massachusetts college taps HEERF to erase students’ college debt

Quinsigamond Community College announced this week it will use more than $2.5 million of the institutional portion of the Federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds it received last month to erase college-held debt for students.

The debt relief applies only to students enrolled in credit degree or certificate programs during the start of the pandemic – March 13, 2020 through the end of the current spring 2021 semester. The funding will assist 1,687 students, with an average amount of $1,525 of institutional debt forgiveness per student.

“The underprivileged and under-served in our community were hit hard by the pandemic,” QCC President Luis Pedraja said in a statement. “These students are often unable to continue their education due to the debt they are carrying. By choosing to invest in our students by removing this barrier, we are investing in our community and strengthening our workforce.”

Illinois college offers new students $500 for bookstore

Elgin Community College (ECC) is offering a limited number of $500 gift cards for its bookstore and college merchandise to new students who register for fall 2021 classes by the end of June.

The first 100 new students to register and complete the necessary steps will receive the gift card, which can be used to buy any items sold by the ECC Bookstore, including books, electronics, headphones, supplies, backpacks, software and more.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.