You are all aware of the importance of the federal Pell Grant program to community college students. If anything, the program's importance has grown over recent years, as many campuses have become more dependent on tuition revenue in light of state and local funding cuts. AACC continues to devote a substantial portion of its advocacy and policy efforts to ensuring that the program remains on strong political and financial footing.
The U.S. Department of Education has just released preliminary Pell Grant program data for the award year (2011-12) that ended June 30. The information represents good news in a number of areas:
Community College Students Are the Largest Beneficiaries of Pell Grants
In award year 2011-12, 3.35 million community college students received Pell Grants, representing 37% of all beneficiaries. This was an increase over prior years. Community college students overall were awarded $11.2 billion, which also represents an increase. The increase in community college student participation in the Pell Grant program is staggering: Program recipients jumped from 1.75 million in 2006-07 to 3.35 million in 2011-12, and over that time the funds they received increased from $3.9 billion to $11.2 billion.
The Cost of the Pell Grant Program Has Finally Abated
For the most recent award year, the cost of the Pell Grant program declined by $2.2 billion, more than 6%. This reduction comes on the heels of program costs that have more than doubled in just five years. This is extremely welcome news because in recent years community college students have been negatively impacted by a number of program changes, and these eligibility changes were driven primarily by a search for ways to reduce program costs. These cuts included the "year-round" Pell Grant, limiting Pell Grants to 12 semesters (or part-time equivalent), and eliminating eligibility for ability-to-benefit (ATB) students.
For-Profit College Students Are Receiving Less Funds
Compared to 2010-11, last year for-profit students received less Pell Grant funds and a lower percentage of total program funds. Student aid is, and should remain, a voucher-based program, with students using federal aid to enroll in the college of their choice—public, private non-profit, or for-profit. That said, the drop in participation by students at for-profit institutions may diminish concerns about that sector. This in turn could help community colleges and their students, since federal student aid policy changes have been driven by abuses in the for-profit sector. The woeful "gainful employment" regulations (including misguided disclosure requirements) and the elimination of ATB funding are but two examples. In 2010-11, for-profit students received a full 25% of all Pell Grant funds.
What can you do to keep this good news coming?
- Keep AACC informed about the impact of this program on your campuses. AACC’s advocacy efforts are furthered when we hear from you about the benefits of key federal programs, as we can then feed that to interested parties on Capitol Hill.
- Even more importantly, keep your legislators informed about the impact of Pell Grants on student access and success. Pressures to reduce Pell Grant expenditures will likely continue, and the best way to fend off such efforts is to ensure that your federal officials know how much this and other programs matter. Student engagement can be extremely helpful. In addition, as the FY 2013 appropriations process continues, be prepared to make the case for restoring eligibility for students without a high school diploma or GED and for ensuring that students who study 100% online can receive full benefits.
- Make sure that all potentially eligible students fill out a Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA). Unfortunately, thousands of community college students fail to receive grant aid each year simply because they fail to apply for it.
For more information, contact AACC's government relations team: David Baime, Jim Hermes, Laurie Quarles, and policy analyst Chris Mullin. Those of you who are interested in being included in AACC’s government relations dissemination list should e-mail Jim Hermes. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the outstanding work of David and the government relations team in advocating the interest of community colleges and this very significant program.
Thanks for your advocacy efforts, and I hope you have had a positive start to the new school year.
Walter G. Bumphus
President and CEO