End of Year-Round Pell Grants Could Lead Many Nontraditional Students to Drop Out

The likely elimination of the year-round Pell Grant program has left thousands of students who had hoped to receive a second grant this year in limbo. Advocates worry that without the additional aid, many low-income, nontraditional students will make slower progress toward their degrees, or they could be forced to drop out of college.

Under the federal budget deal, students would no longer be able to take out a second Pell Grant to pay for classes starting July 1. Eliminating that option would save the federal government $8-billion through the remainder of the current fiscal year and in 2012, and would save about $49-billion over the next decade. Those savings would help close the Pell program’s $20-billion shortfall without cutting the maximum grant award, which is currently $5,550.

Last year, the year-round provision allowed more than 800,000 Pell recipients to take out a second grant to pay for courses between academic semesters, usually during the summer. Advocates say it has become an important resource for students who are financially independent or over age 24, many of whom take summer and intersession courses in the hopes of graduating and entering the work force, or advancing into better-paying jobs, more quickly.

The changes could harm students at for-profit colleges the most. According to the Education Department, 32 percent of the funds for second Pell Grants go to students at for-profit institutions, making them the largest group of recipients, slightly ahead of students at four-year public institutions.

For-profit colleges also have far fewer students than four-year institutions, suggesting that their students take out second grants at an even greater rate.

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