President Proposes Pell Grant Expansion

January 20, 2016

Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

The National College Access Network applauds the Obama Administration’s continued support of low-income students. Yesterday, the Department of Education announced new proposals that support the President's State of the Union point that "real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job." These two new programs, Pell for Accelerated Completion and On-Track Pell Bonus both encourage students to persist on the path to completing their degrees without harming any students using the current Pell Grant. 

The Pell for Accelerated Completion proposal would allow students who take a full time course load (12 credits or more) for two semesters to gain access to additional financial aid dollars to continue their studies for a third semester in the same academic year. Research shows that continuous enrollment increases the chances of completion and permitting the ability of students to access Pell Grant dollars throughout the calendar year will help students achieve their goals of completing a degree. For students who take 12 credits each semester to provide more time to work or care for their families, the ability to use the Pell Grant for additional credits, typically in the summer, will allow these students to stay on track and graduate in four years.

Additionally, the On-Track Pell Bonus, providing $300 to students who take 15 credits a semester, sends the message to students following the traditional academic calendar that 15 credits will keep them on target to graduate on time. While $300 will not be enough to offset the need to work while in school, it sends a positive message about focusing on time to degree and completion. 

The press release announcing these proposals also recommits to several other Obama Administration proposals including America's College Promise to provide two years of free community college to all students, the College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus offering bonus dollars to institutions who enroll and graduate low-income students in high numbers, the American Technical Training Fund to build effective community college programs in high-demand fields, and keeping the Pell Grant on par with rising costs by tying it to inflation. NCAN has proposed and strongly supports tying the Pell Grant to inflation.

The two new Pell Grant programs will likely be part of the President's budget proposal for FY2017, which will be released on February 9, 2016. There is bipartisan support for allowing students to access additional Pell Grant dollars to attend year-round as Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, included a similar idea in his FAST Act, co-sponsored with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). However, to bring about any of these programs through the budget process would require the HELP Committee to approve the additional expenditures or find savings elsewhere in the budget bill.

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