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Sunday, July 10, 2016
Year-Round Pell is Important, But It’s Not Enough

The higher education community was hopeful when, last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee put forth a funding bill that would bring back year-round (or summer) Pell. But just last week, the House Appropriations Committee shared a draft bill that does not include the provision.

Not only should Congress fund year-round Pell, they should go further and ensure the program is built for many more students to complete their degrees on time. Year-round Pell is a critical tool to help more students progress toward a degree; however, year-round Pell, by itself, is not enough. Students certainly need the Pell Grant to be more flexible and available, but they also need the program to provide a clear path to on-time graduation, which it currently lacks. That’s why in our new policy brief, On-Time Pell: Maintain Access, Ensure Completion, Complete College America (CCA) outlines a plan for the creation of an “on-time” status for the Pell Grant. By leveraging the expanded flexibility of year-round Pell and matching it with a clear and guided pathway toward on-time completion, we can transform the expectation for both full-time and part-time students, communicating clearly that on-time graduation is feasible. On-time Pell, as proposed by Complete College America, would enable students to complete 30 funded credits per year in whichever enrollment pattern works for them.

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Currently, the Pell Grant covers only 12 credits per term or 24 credits per year, but to graduate on time, students must complete 30 credits per year. Pell Grant recipients who currently choose to enroll in 30 credits are forced to cover the remaining six credits without financial support from the grant. On-time Pell communicates to students what is needed to graduate on time and sets an expectation for both full-time and part-time students to do so.

This proposal does not change the per-student funding level; it simply allows students to draw down their lifetime Pell eligibility more quickly. It does not change the definition of full-time or harm any other Pell population; it simply adds another status designation for students to better understand what it takes to graduate and how to get there.

Why has Complete College America, a state policy organization, come out with a federal policy proposal? For two reasons: First, most states and institutions adhere to the federal definition of full-time as 12 credits for their financial aid programs and would likely follow suit if a new federal standard were set to encourage on-time completion. Second, Complete College America’s work across our 40 state and consortium members (and down into systems and institutions) is directly impacted by the current limitations of Pell. The creation of an on-time Pell status would go a long way to both support and spur efforts by states and institutions to help their students graduate in a timely manner.

Year-round Pell is important, but at this moment, when the higher education community is standing up to support it, we need to use this opportunity to go further and ensure significantly more students can earn their degrees on time.

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posted by Julie Johnson

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