It seems as though the U.S. Department of Education is in the spirit of giving second chances in 2017. At least, as far as the renewal of year-round Pell Grants is concerned. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, hundreds of thousands of low-income post-secondary students will soon have access to Pell Grants throughout the summer months, in addition to the regular school year. The Education Department is saying “We’re going to get it right this time”, referring to the previous attempt of this initiative that was originally launched in 2008, only to be revoked in 2011.
What went wrong the first time around?
On top of harsh (and largely unfounded) criticism regarding its effectiveness, the original implementation of this program failed to address discrepancies between federal and Institutional credit requirements for full-time enrolment. In addition, year-round Pell Grants were intended to be used for the sole purpose of academic acceleration or fast-tracking, excluding many hard-working students hoping to utilize the summer months in order to get back on track and/or fill the aforementioned credit gap. The reality is that a large proportion of these previously excluded students are juggling the demands of work and family, on top of their academic careers. So, what good is a financial assistance program if it fails to accommodate the needs of those who stand to benefit most from it?
Ensuring Satisfactory Academic Progress
Under year-round implementation, institutions must take the necessary steps to ensure that Pell Grants are being allocated to students who are making satisfactory academic progress at a reasonable pace. The Education Department is also proposing increased autonomy for higher education institutions, as far as yearly grant provision and associated considerations are concerned, in the hopes of reducing administrative complication and strain. Aside from working towards inclusive and clear-cut policies under this year-round funding revival, universities and colleges must provide guidance and support to students as they map out their post-secondary careers in accordance with their financial assistance. As with any program aimed at inclusion in higher education, money is just one- admittedly large- piece of a rather intricate puzzle of student engagement and success.
Time to Let the Data Speak for Itself
The beauty of do-overs lies in hindsight perspective. However, a lack of truly substantial findings related to the initial attempt at year-round Pell Grants under the Obama administration has left a few areas of ambiguity in its wake. The upside is that previous pitfalls have made one thing especially clear. Data collection is paramount to ensuring future and ongoing success of this initiative as a tool for increased financial accessibility in higher education. Do you believe in second chances?