President Barack Obama wants to help college students complete degrees faster by introducing two changes to Pell Grants.
The proposed changes would allow students to receive Pell Grants for a third semester during an academic year and reward students who take 15 credit hours each semester.
“I think from a student perspective it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Cindy Burnette, director of student financial assistance at Western Kentucky University.
If realized, the changes would create an additional $2 billion in Pell Grants for students in fiscal year 2017, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Education.
While many college students lose access to Pell Grants after two semesters, the Pell for Accelerated Completion would award almost 700,000 students next year with an extra $1,915 on average. Meanwhile, the On-Track Pell Bonus would encourage students to finish
college in four years or faster “through an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award of $300 for students who take 15 credits per semester in an academic year,” the release said. Such a move would help an estimated 2.3 million students next year, the Department of Education said.
Unlike a loan, a Pell Grant doesn’t have to be paid back, and they’re awarded based on need, Burnette said. Year-round Pell Grants used to be available to college students, she said, but the government wasn’t able to sustain them financially.
“I think it’s a good idea if there’s longevity to it,” she said, adding that students won’t get much mileage out of the change if it disappears again.
As for the change rewarding full-time students, Burnette said WKU students are considered full time when they’re taking at least 12 hours.
“It would lower their debt because they would be able to get out of college faster,” said Sandy Neel, executive director of student financial aid at the University of Louisville.
Previously, year-round Pell Grants were difficult for universities to award, but now it seems to be becoming more simplified, she said.
Nimmi Wiggins, director of student financial aid and Scholarships at the University of Kentucky, also approved of extending Pell Grants throughout the year.
“Under the current regulations, Pell Grant recipients enrolled full time during the fall and spring semester have no remaining eligibility for Pell in the summer,” Wiggins said in an email. “With limited funding options, many students opt to not attend summer school. A summer Pell program will allow low income students to take summer classes and graduate on time.”
Although she said it was difficult to predict how many students would take summer classes because of the change, it has helped UK students in the past.
“Back in the summer of 2010 and 2011, the federal government did make Pell Grants available to students who had used up their eligibility during the fall and spring terms,” Wiggins said. “UK had more than 500 students each summer take advantage of the program.”
Funding for the federal program has risen in recent years, Wiggins said, but so have costs for students. The maximum Pell Grant for 2015-16 totals $5,775.
“Typically, students borrow up to their annual loan limits and full-time students are awarded the Pell annual limit during the fall/spring terms,” Wiggins said. “Also, many scholarship programs are geared toward helping students during the fall/spring semester. The availability of Pell dollars during the summer will provide students with an incentive to enroll in summer school.”
Rewarding students who take full-time course loads is also worth it, she said.
“Graduating at a faster pace will certainly mean a lower cost for the student,” she said.
By Aaron Mudd
Bowling Green Daily News