Pell Spending Levels Off

Pell Grants might not be such an appealing target to federal budget cutters after all, because the program’s total cost decreased last year, surprising many.

The federal government spent $2.2 billion less on Pell Grants in the most recent fiscal year (which ended on July 1) compared to the previous year, according to newly released preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education. That decrease, to $33.4 billion from $35.6 billion, fell well short of the department’s estimated $40 billion price tag for Pell.

The dip in spending also occurred while the number of Pell recipients increased by 58,000. That means more of the almost 9.7 million lower-income students who received the grants last year got smaller awards. One reason for that could be more students attending college part time, because part-time enrollment status reduces Pell award amounts.

Experts said another probable cause for the decrease in expenditures is the elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year. But that cut, which went into effect in July 2011, was projected to save only $4 billion per year, and the program came in more than $6.5 billion under its estimated cost. So something else must also be at play.

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