Pell Grant changes slow graduation rates

Maya Rhodan | 4/22/2013, 12:04 p.m.
In many ways, the route Bonita Rex took to college is not unusual. After graduating from high school in 2007, ...
Bonita Rex (right), a student ambassador, offers information about the changes to Pell eligibility rules and encouraging fellow students to sign onto the college’s Save Pell website to send letters to their elected officials. Community College of Philadelphia

Two-thirds of the full time community college students in the states are Pell recipients.

According to the report, enrollment decreased at 47 of the 62 two-year colleges in those states during the 2012-2013 academic year, something the authors of the report attribute to the changes made to the Pell Grant program.

“The Deep South states clearly rely on public higher education to educate their citizenry beyond high school,” the report reads. “By definition, this means that Pell Grants are vital to enhancing college degree completion in the Deep South, for it is the community colleges where economically disadvantaged students begin higher education.”

After a round of changes to the federal Pell Grant program that eliminated assistance to low-income students in an effort to cut costs, the program is expected to have a $9.2 billion surplus at the end of fiscal year 2013.

But students no longer eligible for Pell Grants will have to look elsewhere.

“We can’t say that students will choose loans, but they are another option on the plate for them to seek out,” says Jennifer Freeman, the director of communications and marketing at Mississippi Valley State. “It’s unfortunate as it relates to the cost of education going up, but we try our best to do much as we can.”

At Rex’s school, enrollment dropped by 4 percent overall and 8 percent among full-time students, which school officials attribute in part to students’ Pell Grant funding.

Despite such dips, many students and advocates for Pell Grants remain hopeful about the program’s future.

For two semesters, Bonita Rex couldn’t afford to buy books for all of her classes when her Pell Grant didn’t provide enough and the checks from her two minimum wage jobs couldn’t cover the rest. She says without the grant, however, she wouldn’t be able to afford school at all.

She says, “My Pell Grant is keeping me here.”