There Is Room for Improvement in Pell Grant Program, Report Says

The federal government can do more to help America’s poorest students finance college, says a new study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), in collaboration with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

The report, “Window of Opportunity: Targeting Federal Grant Aid to Students

with the Lowest Incomes” suggests raising the minimum Pell awards in order to prevent higher income students from receiving the aid that the nation’s poorest students so desperately need. Or the government could raise the maximum ceiling for individual Pell Grants in order to increase the amount of aid given overall and to expand the pool of eligible aid recipients, including higher income students.

IHEP also suggests that the Federal Needs Analysis rules be adjusted to allow for negative Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This would allow more aid to flow to the students with the lowest incomes without affecting the awards available to other students. This adjustment would mean an additional $750 in college aid for the students with the lowest incomes. Currently, students with negative EFC receive the same amount of aid as higher income students with EFCs of zero.

Alisa Federico Cunningham, vice president of Research and Programs for IHEP, says that rather than overhaul the entire system, IHEP focused on improving the Pell Grant model already in place.

“We’ve decided to accept what’s there but tweak it to focus more on the students who need the most aid,” she says. “Part of our mission is to help the most disadvantaged students get the support they need, and this report really focuses on those students.”

The recommendations are already being discussed by Congress, and both IHEP and AASCU hope Congress will heed their suggestions.

“The policy options outlined in this report are fiscally sound and would help remove financial barriers that currently keep many students who are in or near poverty from attending college in the same numbers as students of similar ability but from middle- or higher-income families,” said AASCU President Constantine W. (Deno) Curris.

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