March 15, 2011
Today’s Inside Higher Education has an excellent piece by Doug Lederman on what’s ahead for Pell Grants. It has the somewhat misleading title “Is Pell Too Big?” While there is some discussion of whether budget exigencies may lead to cuts in overall Pell funding ($36 billion in FY11), the thrust of the article is on how to focus Pell grants to be maximally effective for low-income students.
Three factors are discussed to account for significant increases in the overall Pell Budget: (1) the worsening economy and its effect on low and modest-income families, (2) the rapid expansion of Pell Grants at for-profit colleges (they now account for 25% of all Pell funds), and (3) recent changes in the eligibility rules for Pell grants.
What to do about (2) and (3) are really the interesting policy argument. About the first, Tom Mortenson, editor of Postsecondary Education Opportunity, a newsletter about access in higher education, says “It’s the economy, stupid. The hard and fast fact that people keep dodging is that the low-income population in the country is growing, and the kind of work they have done in the past without higher education is disappearing.”