At the start of the year, the administration proposed allowing full-time students who qualify for Pell to receive the grants three semesters a year, instead of two. That way, students can take a full load of courses year-round, earn a degree faster and avoid taking on a lot of student debt. President Obama doubled Pell funding in 2010 through savings eked out of reforms to the federal student loan system, but congressional budget agreements the following years cut the benefits by not allowing the grants to be used toward summer courses.
“The CBO estimates show that the program has enough funding to restore year-round Pell,” José Luis Santos, vice president for higher education policy and practice at the Education Trust, said in a statement. “Congress has the opportunity to preserve and strengthen this vital resource.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in restoring year-round Pell. Indeed, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Education Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat, told The Washington Post that the restoration was a top legislative priority.
Still, it’s unclear whether members of Congress can coalesce around another proposal to grow the federal grant program. The administration has also proposed raising the maximum Pell award $300 for students who take 15 or more credits a semester. The plan would benefit an estimated 2.3 million students, according to officials. But lawmakers have been pretty quiet about the proposal.
About 8.5 million students benefited from the $31 million program in the 2014-2015 school year. The vast majority of recipients come from families earning less than $40,000 a year. Nearly two-thirds of African American undergraduates receive Pell funding, as do 51 percent of Latino undergrads, according to the Education Trust.
But Pell has not kept pace with the cost of college. Whereas the grants covered 77 percent of the cost of attending a four-year public university in 1980, it barely covered a third of the cost by 2011, according to the Education Trust.
“Congress has provided roughly level appropriations for Pell grants for the last six years while college costs have continued to rise, resulting in Pell grants covering the smallest share of college costs in more than 40 years,” said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).
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