Pell as a Paycheck

For a Pell Grant recipient at a college with low tuition and fees, the beginning of a new semester can bring a windfall: a check in the hundreds of dollars representing the difference between total financial aid and the cost of attendance.

Many students use the check to pay for their books, or to buy a laptop or other equipment to use during their studies. For others, it covers living expenses while they are enrolled. A new project from the Institute for College Access and Success and MDRC, a policy research organization, wants to use the leftover money in a different way: as a biweekly paycheck for students.

The project, dubbed “Aid Like a Paycheck,” just wrapped up its first year as a pilot program at Mt. San Antonio College, a community college east of Los Angeles. Researchers say that, while it’s too early to tell if distributing surplus money from Pell Grants will encourage students to finish their degrees, or hasten college completion, early results are promising.

“The brass ring, of course, is higher completion,” said Thomas Brock, director of young adults and postsecondary education policy for MDRC. But other benefits could improve faster degree completion, because students who are receiving a “paycheck” may be more likely to give their studies more focus, he added.

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