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August 07, 2012 5:09 PM No Summer Pell

By Daniel Luzer

Traditionally Pell, the federal grant program available for low-income students, could be used all 12 months of the year. But thanks to congressional infighting back in 2011, the federal government changed the rules so that now Pell is only available for 18 semesters; they can’t use the grants to pay for summer courses. This change had a real impact on colleges, and not a good one. Many people just aren’t attending college in the summer.

Community College Spotlight reports that:

President Obama suggested ending the program, which had spiraled to $8 billion in three years, to save the maximum grant of $5,550. The administration said there was no evidence offering summer grants had raised graduation rates.
With many low-income students, community colleges are especially worried about the effect of losing year-round Pell Grants.

The full result of this change is hard to determine now. The piece offered no national figures for enrollment reductions.

It’s also too early to tell if the semester limit on Pell grants will adversely affect graduation rates. It does matter to students however. About 41 percent of all community college students receive Pell grants. Because community college students have the lowest incomes of all college students, if they don’t get Pell grants, they simply won’t go to college.

Conservatives sometimes claim that increasing federal financial aid is a reason for the increasing in tuition across colleges. If we only cut federal aid, the programs will be more effective. “Eligibility requirements should be tightened so that only very low-income students receive Pell grants. Only students whose family income is in the bottom quartile should be eligible,” a June paper from the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy recommended.” Very low income students benefit most from Pell grants.”

Well, perhaps this is true in the long run. Immediately, however, Pell grant restrictions just keep people from taking classes.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer