Federal Cutbacks to Pell Grants May Threaten Summer Classes

After a brief period when low-income students could access Pell Grants year round to fast-track their post-secondary education, recent federal budget cutbacks are expected to slam on the brakes.

Those who already received year-round Pell money during the spring semester may still be able to pursue summer classes.

The real crunch looms in 2012, when the cutbacks that go into effect July 1 could curb some students’ ability to continue a year-round schedule.

"We don’t have a complete sense of how it will affect enrollment," said Evan Icolari, interim director of financial aid at the University of Colorado Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus.

"But we’re certainly talking about it having an impact on low-income students’ abilities to attend school during the summer."

The year-round grant was designed to help students complete college more quickly. It was a casualty of budget cuts as an alternative to trimming the maximum $5,550 annual grant.

For-profit colleges, in particular, could see many of their students affected, said Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, an industry trade group.

Students attending those schools tend to be older and oriented toward earning a degree as quickly as possible, he said.

In 2009, about 90,000 students were enrolled in for-profit colleges in Colorado — about 19 percent of the post-secondary population.

Nationally, more than 800,000 students received year-round Pell Grants, and 32 percent of those attended for-profit institutions, according to APSCU.

"If you’re well-to-do, you can power ahead and have no problem doing it," Miller said. "But if you’re a low-income, working adult and dependant on grant aid and loans, this is just one more barrier."

Miller said incremental changes in the program — such as limiting year-round grants to students who show adequate progress — could accomplish the same kind of savings as either elimination of the year-round Pell or a reduction in the maximum award.

"It would slow the rate of growth of the program without draconian options," he said.

In Colorado’s community-college system, few students had taken advantage of the year-round Pell, said system vice president and provost Geri Anderson.

But the community colleges plan to work with any affected students to direct them toward institutional or private aid. Each school in the system has a foundation with money dedicated to scholarships.

"It’s not about finding new money — though we’re always looking — but directing students to that application process so they can use that for summer," Anderson said.


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