The Chronicle of Higher Education
By: Beckie Supiano
April 18, 2011
Financial-aid experts typically advocate putting more money into the federal Pell Grant program. But now, with cuts very much on the table--the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget resolution for the 2012 fiscal year on Friday that would take the maximum grant back to pre-stimulus levels--they are making recommendations for how to trim it.
The College Board has brought together a group of student-aid experts to think through long-term changes that would improve the Pell Grant program. Last week the group sent the College Board a letter outlining its suggestions for short-term changes.
"We do think it's realistic to consider the pressure on this, and we should all think about the least damaging ways to cut it," said Sandy Baum, an independent higher-education-policy analyst and a senior fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Ms Baum, who blogs for The Chronicle, was one of the signers of the letter.
The group recommends that Congress consider the following proposals:
•Change the definition of full-time enrollment: Currently, students who are enrolled for 12 credit hours can receive the maximum Pell Grant, but at most colleges, they must enroll for 15 hours to graduate on time. The group suggests increasing the hours needed for full-time status, which it expects would both save money and encourage more students to graduate on time.
•Limit years of eligibility: Students can receive Pell Grants for the equivalent of up to nine years of undergraduate work. Reducing that time limit to six or eight years would save money and encourage timely graduation, while still allowing students to use the grants for remedial coursework.
•Change the automatic-zero provision: The income cap for receiving an "automatic zero" expected family contribution was recently raised from $20,000 to $30,000 for dependent students and independent students with dependents. If those students enroll full time, they qualify for the maximum Pell Grant. The group says these students should still have their contribution decided automatically, but, for example, those who make between $20,000 and $30,000 might be given an automatic contribution of $500 or $1,000 rather than zero.
•Change the Pell eligibility formula, but keep it simple for students: The group argues that any changes in eligibility requirements should rely on information that is already collected, rather than requiring students to submit more information.
•Refine eligibility requirements: The group is in favor of finding a way to restrict the grants to colleges that are committed to student success. It says that as part of that evaluation process, the government might re-examine the use of ability-to-benefit tests for students who lack a high-school diploma or its equivalent.