Pay back financial aid

Republican senators introduced a bill that will “encourage” Pell Grant recipients to graduate within six years.

The Pell for Performance Act is proposing that students who fail to graduate in six years repay back the Pell Grants, with interest accumulating from the first award letter. Should this bill made into law, it would affect all levels of post-secondary education, including community colleges.

According to Stanislav Levin, a research analyst for the LACCD Office of Institutional Research and Information, community colleges serves as an entry point into higher education for economically disadvantaged students, and the Federal Pell Grant serves a major role.   

“The Federal Pell Grant program is one of the critical mechanisms enabling students to substantially reduce their work burden, persevere in college, obtain a two year degree or transfer to a four-year institution,” Levin said in a report.  

Pell Grants are need-based financial aid rewards given to qualifying students, usually low-income, to subsidize the cost of college each semester. These grants are not loans and do not need to be paid, whether a degree is completed or not.

Statistics show that about 36 percent of Pell Grant recipients are not graduating. These rates have caused concerns for opponents of the grant, who are pushing to amend the program. According to the Hechinger Report, analysis of 32 of the largest private and 50 of the largest public universities revealed that more than a third of Pell Grant recipients hadn’t earned a degree after six years.

A large percentage of Pell Grant recipients are non-traditional students in community colleges and trade schools, who are usually in those institutions to reduce the cost of an expensive education. According to NPR, these students make up almost half of Pell Grant recipients, but only 3 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.

Pell Grants are capped at $5,920 a semester. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the maximum Pell Grant award covers about 30 percent of a four-year tuition, but on average, students don’t receive the maximum award of $3,700, and are unable to pay tuition and fees.  

“Access to financial aid is considered to be essential to the student academic success and educational goal attainment in a two-year institution,” Levin said in the report. “Absent an adequate financial aid award, many low- and middle-income college students will face certain barriers to college education, having to work significant number of hours to cover the costs of their education and living expenses as well as to fully meet their family obligations.”

Republican senators say that this bill will offer a reprieve to taxpayers, who have paid $400 billion to fund the Pell Grant program since 2000, and are now spending more than $30 million a year to continue to fund the program, according to TIME.

The Act exempts current recipients, students who are on active military duty or who experience illness, injury or the death of a relative.