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Pell Grant program could be expanded to full year

Expanding the Pell Grant program could give about 1 million students an extra $1,650 a year on average. philia17/Flickr

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Lawmakers are considering changes to the federal Pell Grant program, which is projected to have a $7.8 billion surplus.

A U.S. Senate committee is expected to take up a funding bill Thursday that would use a big chunk of that money to make Pell grants available to students year-round.

At one point, eligible students could receive the grants three semesters a year, instead of two.

“Congress had to cut the budgeting in 2011,” said Kim Cook, executive director of National College Access Network, adding that two semesters of aid isn’t enough.

“The old idea that students attend for a fall semester and spring semester, and then take off for the summer, isn’t well suited to today’s students,” she said.

Expanding the Pell could give roughly 1 million students an extra $1,650 a year on average. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said that could help boost graduation rates and limit student debt.

But, there’s “an opportunity to do much more,” said Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access and Success.

Asher is among critics who oppose a provision in the bill that would cut $1.2 billion from the $7.8 billion surplus and move it out of higher education.

“Right now, the low- and moderate-income students who rely on Pell grants are facing the highest debt levels,” she said.

Asher explained that the maximum Pell grant of about $5,800 covers less than a third of the cost to attend a public, four-year college as an in-state student.

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