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Pell Grant Changes Hurt Those Most in Need

March 28, 2012

So once again those with the most need have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to the budget process – this time in the arena of federal financial aid.  Under a provision included in the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress made several changes to Pell grant eligibility. Key among these was a reduction in the amount of time that someone attending school can receive federal financial aid from 18 semesters to 12 semesters.  This is likely to impact primarily those who enter college with the fewest skills and therefore require longer periods of time to graduate.  In particular, young people who did not have adequate schooling during their primary and secondary school years often enter college unprepared to take college level classes.  This means that they need to spend time taking basic skills classes before they can start taking classes for college credit which lengthens the total time that they end up in school.  If a student hopes to transfer to a Cal State or UC school to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, they will now be at risk for eating up all of their available financial aid before they are able to complete a degree.  This is a particular risk for foster youth who often do not get all of the basic skills needed for college level work due to multiple school transfers and placement instability.

According to CNN Money, an estimated 100,000 student nationwide are at risk of not being able to complete their degrees as a result of this change.  In addition this change is likely to disproportionately impact African American students.  African-American students comprise 24% of Pell Grant recipients but make up 41% of Pell Grant recipients working toward a degree after six years, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

The second troubling provision is the elimination of federal financial aid for those attending college who do not have a high school diploma or GED.  While these students will still be eligible to enroll in community college, they will no longer be eligible for federal financial aid including Pell grants.  Under current law, students without a high school diploma or GED can pass an “Ability to Benefit” test in order to qualify for federal financial aid.  They also qualify if they successfully complete six credit hours of coursework.  Neither option will be available to incoming students  who first enroll in a program of study on or after July 1, 2012.  According to the Association of Community College Trustees, 65,000 students nationwide who would have received an average grant of $3,932 will not receive one in 2012-13.  As with the reduction in time limit, this is likely to disproportionately impact foster youth.  Transfers between schools  as a result of placement changes often result in youth not acquiring enough credits to graduate from high school.  Allowing these youth the opportunity to have exposure to college life provides a potential motivator for them to continue their education.  Without financial resources, however, this will be that much more challenging.

These changes are expected to save the government $11 billion over the next ten years.  While this may seem like a lot of money, in fact it will reduce the overall budget deficit by less than one tenth of one percent.  The impact on the budget will be negligible and yet the impact on low income and at-risk students will be substantial.  Once again, our short sighted Congress has chosen to prioritize short term budget cuts that in fact do virtually nothing to address the budget deficit at the expense of the long term viability of our system of higher education and at the expense of those who are most in need of additional support in order to improve their lot in life and achieve the so called “American Dream.”  As the fight over the FY 2013 budget begins, Republicans in Congress are looking to cut Pell grants even further with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, referring to Pell Grants as “the welfare of the 21st century.”

The John Burton Foundation, through a grant from the Stuart Foundation, is actively working to improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care through training and advocacy.  The arrival of AB12 serves as an excellent springboard for achieving the goal of improved rates of higher education access and completion for current and former foster youth.  We, along with others who support educational opportunities for all youth –  including  foster youth –  must be ever-vigilant in the months and years ahead to protect this vital program from further cuts.

One Comment leave one →
  1. FYAdvocate permalink
    April 5, 2012 5:02 pm

    Full funding for the Chafee ETV program would be a start to giving former foster youth a fighting change of finishing a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. This federal program serves less than 10% of eligible first year colleges students in the community college system. Or would Congress rather expend the funds on more welfare services, homeless shelters and many more costly alternatives?

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