Having educated members of the society is extremely important because education promises a balanced life, self-dependency, and a source of living. Besides, high literacy levels portend a growing economy as educated people tend to be productive. As such, governments have come forth with various educational policies that seek to ensure that every member of the society has access to education. Through the Department of Education, United States has made tremendous efforts to ensure that Americans have a chance to get an education.A key ingredient in the US education is the use of Federal Pell Grants that are issued by the government.
What Are Federal Pell Grants?
A Federal Pell Grant is a financial aid in the form of a subsidy given to students in need to pay for their college studies. The Department of Education provides that the grants are aimed at assisting students who come from needy backgrounds such that they have equal access to education (“Federal Pell Grants”, 2016). The department recognizes that the society has different social classes of people; hence, some students come from rich families that can afford education in any institution while others come from low-income families and are often unable to raise school fees. Therefore, Pell Grants come in handy to boost the financial ability of the needy students as they pursue their educational needs.
Federal Pell Grants have existed for almost half of a century since the grant program was initiated in 1965 through the higher education act. The program is named after its pioneer and sponsor Claiborne de Borda Pell who was a Rhode Island senator for six sessions. These grants are basically meant to help the needy students who are seeking higher education because it only benefits undergraduate students; those yet to earn their bachelor’s degree certificate. Pell grants are the primary financial aid though other different forms of subsidies or aid are extended to the students in the country (“Federal Pell Grants”, 2016).
The Federal Pell Grants should not be confused as loans because the government does not ask to be paid back after completion of studies by the students thus a key positive characteristic of the program. The highest amount a student can receive a Pell Grant as per 2015-2016 fiscal year is $5,775. However, this is not a fixed amount for every student because it depends on the financial needs; as such, the amount could be lower for some students. Other determinants of Pell Grant amount include; the expected family contribution (EFC), the costs incurred in attending school, mode of study which could be full-time or part-time, length of learning session as some students may decide to attend school for the whole academic year while others could attend few sessions within a year (“Federal Pell Grants”, 2016).
But then, Pell Grants come with them stringent rules to enhance the efficient and accountability of the program. The department of education stipulates that a student cannot be eligible to receive Pell Grant funding from two different learning institutions at the same time; it must be from one school per year. Then again, the financial need of the student has to be evaluated before given the grant money. The department of education is mandated with the role of clearing students to determine how needy students’ applicants of the grant are. Often, a key factor that forms the basis of the formula used to evaluate the financial need of a student is the family’s EFC (“Federal Pell Grant Program”, 2016).
The financial need evaluation formula incorporates the income that the student earns, if any, plus other material assets owned by the student if he or she is self-reliant. If the student depends on parents or guardians for educational financing, the formula takes into account the income earned by the parent and assets owned, as well. The formula also takes into consideration the size of the family with a special focus on family members or siblings who are taking studies in institutions of higher learning. However, different rates are applied in assessing the students depending on their dependency, that is, there are dependent students, independent students who do not have dependents, and independent students who have people who depending on them (“Federal Pell Grant Program”, 2016).
There is a special allowance for students whose parents or guardians worked for the US military and died while serving their country in the Middle East after 9/11. These students are likely to receive higher grant amounts given that the death of their parent occurred while they were 24 years and below or they were pursuing college studies at the time. Normally, successful students who have been awarded Pell Grant money receive the money through their schools whereby the school is funded for the student’s costs directly. It is also possible for the department of education to channel the money directly to the banking details of the students who then uses the money to pay the school for his or her learning costs. However, it is possible and sometimes happen that both payment methods can be used such that part of the money goes directly to the school account and part of it go directly to the student account.
Goals and Purposes of the Pell Grant Program
Improving on literacy levels in the United States has always been a key area of focus especially in the 20th and 21st centuries. Education is acknowledged as the key to a stable and independent society. However, in the United States, there has been a great concern among key stakeholders in education that students from low-income families are increasingly finding it hard to access education. There have been turbulences in the economy that have led to various issues such as inflation and rising of college tuition fees. To enable the needy students to access education, subsidized aid has been established through programs like Pell Grants (Singell & Stone, 2007). Therefore, Pell Grants Program purpose to enable students from less well-to-do families to have equal access to programs offered by institutions of higher learning just like their counterparts from rich backgrounds.
According to Kerr’s article in US News (2016), the key goal of the Pell Grants program is to assist more learners to graduate from institutions of higher learning. The program extends financial aid to these students thus making them to be able to attend tuition classes throughout the semesters in an academic year and also reward these learners when they take increased credits. The program ensures timely disbursements such that students who benefit from the program’s funding register for their tuition courses on time. The program can also reward bonus amounts to students who undertake more credits than usual, for example, those who take over 15 credits can receive up to $300 reward (Kerr, 2016).
Other key goals of Pell Grants program as outlined by the Federal Student Aid website include the following (Source: “Federal Pell Grants”, 2016);
- Reforming the education sector, which is characterized by inequality in access to education due to standards of living or social classes. Well-to-do families can afford any education regardless of the program or institution while less well-to-do struggle to afford even a college graduation. The goal, therefore, aims at reforming the education for these two social classes to have access to education.
- Improving student achievement through the assured financial aid. This is because most of the need-based students have the potential but lack the financial resources to propel them to success; hence, when they are assured of continuous aid by the government through Pell Grants, they are able to achieve their dreams of education.
- Improving literacy levels of the country by enabling more learners to have access to education. This follows that, through the Pell Grant program, many more learners are incorporated into the education system hence more learned individuals in the country. Increased literacy levels, on the other hand, could result in a positive impact on the economy as learned individuals often engage in more productive activities.
The US government has achieved its educational goals as set in the Pell Grant program through the educational agencies established in the country. The key organization is the Department of Education which oversees the implementation of the Pell Grants and disbursement of funds every year.Besides the parent program, Pell Grant, the government recently came up with On-Track Pell Bonus, which has been a great add-on leading to improved education completion rates in the country. On-Track Pell Bonus is basically an incentive that awards cash bonuses for more credits or course units taken by a student; hence, it has been great in helping achieve the goals of the initial Pell Grants program (US Department of Education, 2016). Also, the goals are achieved through creating awareness to the students on the availability of such financial subsidies and educating them on how they could be awarded.
Federal Pell Grants Program Achievements
As outlined by US Department of Education (2016), the Federal Pell Grants program has performed tremendously in the previous years, actually since it was established. Through the program, there is accelerated completion of education in colleges considering that not many students were able to graduate in their allocated time in the past. Currently, students can receive grants even during their third semesters of the year; hence, trimester studies enable students to complete their credits faster than before leading to early completion of their college studies. Then again, On-Track Pell Bonus was recently introduced to be an incentive for learners so as to motivate them to complete their studies faster and save on costs. Therefore, Pell grant program coupled with the On-Track Pell Bonus has really achieved faster and increased graduation rates as learners are able to finish school early and at least possible costs.
A key achievement, and what the Pell program is meant to do is that it has resulted in increased number of learners in institutions of higher learning. Students from less well-to-do families have been able to access college education through this program hence a huge influx into college institutions. This is a great achievement as the country can obtain more graduates in the society, and these graduates could be key drivers towards boosting the economy. Therefore, the Pell program has achieved education equity and quality thus this portends a better society in the future (US Department of Education, 2016).
Criticisms and Unintended Consequences of Pell Grants
The Pell grant program has become under unfavorable judgment in the recent times with claims that a lot of money in billions of dollars is spent on many learners who never complete a college education and graduate. According to Butrymowicz (2015), schools in the United States with high numbers of students who are beneficiaries of Pell grants produce a smaller number of graduates compared to those that receive a smaller share of the grants. Butrymowicz’s study of 2015 is based on Hechinger Report which shows that over $300 billion of taxpayer money has one to Pell grants since the dawn of the new millennium, making it among the US’ single most expensive educational program.
In the fiscal year ended 2015, Pell grants took a whopping $31.4 billion of public money hence raising the alarm regarding the efficiency of the program. It could be better if the government’s department of education did a background check to ensure that the money allocated to help to students from low-income earning families really sees them earn the degrees as intended by the government. Otherwise, it is a waste of money as billions of dollars go to waste as most of these students end up abandoning their studies without graduating. This is the reason the Republicans have over and over proposed that the maximum amounts awarded under the program be frozen gradually in the coming decade (Butrymowicz, 2015).
Critics of the Pell Grants Program also claim that there are fraudulent cases whereby the beneficiaries of the grant money channel it to other issues rather than the intended use in education. According to Genzer (2011),some students resorted to using the Pell grant money to play Santa or do shopping in seasons such as Christmas. The department of education is now under fire because of its method of the funds disbursement whereby it mainly awards the Pell grants directly to the students’ bank accounts. When the students get the money directly into their accounts, they are often attracted to use it to meet their immediate needs hence diverting from their purpose to fulfill higher education. The fact that some grants are not going to education has sparked heated political debates as many people in the government call for important reformative actions on the program.
Mitchem (2012) acknowledges the big role and impact played by the department of education through the Pell Grant Program to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds attain college certifications.Despite the recent efforts to increase the highest Pell grant value to $5,550, there are still key issues that need to be improved to make the program efficient. Mitchem (2012) critiques the Pell Grant Program by revealing that the program covers only 21% of the total expenditure by institutions of higher learning. Also, there is potential that a lot of students will lack financial aid in their schooling because of the changes to have the span when students are eligible to receive the grants from 18 to 12 semesters or sessions.
Mitchem (2012) further criticizes the Pell grants policy because it is slowly shifting from being need-based to merit-based. It is so unfortunate that stakeholders in education especially colleges and universities have made a shift from emphasizing on helping the needy towards helping performers or those with merit. This could cripple further a program that once promised increased literacy levels in the country through equal access to education by all regardless of the economic conditions. To escalate the issue of shifts from need-based educational funding is the prevalent underrepresentation of marginalized, low-income students in higher education yet the same students are the ones that highly depend on aid from the federal state. In their study, Singell & Stone (2007) attests federal subsidies in education are part of the problem in the education. Their argument is; instead of financial aid including Pell Grants, the government should seek alternatives such aslowering college costs for students to make it affordable.
According to Tebbs & Turner (2005), there are major flaws in the ratio of recipients to enrollment regarding Pell Grant program whereby the ratio is the key measure in the comparison of enrollments by institutions of higher learning. Also, the process of determining opportunities for the needy students at institutional levels has not been very transparent. These issues give room for criticisms as they seem to create a loophole for the program not to achieve full efficiency. Then again, a key reason to critique Pell grants is that often, the beneficiaries of these funds are usually less prepared academically than those students from richer backgrounds who are self-sponsor their studies (Wei, Horn, & Carroll, 2002). Not to forget to mention the many procedures that a student could go through while processing his eligibility so as to be awarded the money. The procedures are frustrating and a major limitation of Pell grants hence a source of criticism.
Summary and Conclusion
The Pell Grant program has significantly helped a lot of students in the US in furthering their education to institutions of higher learning. There is now increased access to colleges and universities, enhanced quality of education, and increased completion of college education and other opportunities for the youths. This is a good program for a country that is determined to produce professionals and other important personnel in the society. It is commendable seeing a country establish programs that close gaps that are created due to social classes. I find theprogram to have a huge potential to improve the education sector currently and in the future.
However, the government and the established watchdog, the department of education, should take note of the criticisms and challenges that arise from the grant program so as to achieve utmost importance. The issue of overspending, grants being channeled to other uses, time-consuming application procedures, and other flaws in the program should all be checked, and appropriate solutions are reached. Also, there is the need for the government to work together with higher education institutions lower tuition fees and other college costs for the needy students such that the subsidies offered can be relevant. It would be useless if the government offered subsidies while fees keep rising. To sum it up, achieving quality and equity in the education sector should be a collective effort from the government, students, and other education sector stakeholders.
Butrymowicz, S. (2015). Billions in Pell dollars go to students who never graduate – The Hechinger Report. The Hechinger Report. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from http://hechingerreport.org/billions-in-pell-dollars-go-to-students-who-never-graduate/
Federal Pell Grant Program. (2016). Www2.ed.gov. Retrieved 12 November 2016, from http://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html
Federal Pell Grants. (2016). Federal Student Aid. Retrieved 12 November 2016, from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/pell
Genzer, N. (2011). Some Pell grants not going toward education – The Hechinger Report. The Hechinger Report. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from http://hechingerreport.org/some-pell-grants-not-going-towards-education/
Kerr, J. (2016). The Obama administration wants to expand the federal Pell grant program to help more students graduate from college _ by providing them with money to attend classes year-round and reward them for taking more credits. usnews.com. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-01-20/pell-grant-expansion-a-goal-of-obama-administration
Mitchem, A. (2012). Pell Grants boost college access for low-income students but money is only half the story – The Hechinger Report. The Hechinger Report. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from http://hechingerreport.org/pell-grants-boost-college-access-for-low-income-students-but-money-is-only-half-the-story/
Singell, L. & Stone, J. (2007). For whom the Pell tolls: The response of university tuition to federal grants-in-aid. Economics Of Education Review, 26(3), 285-295. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2006.01.005
Tebbs, J. & Turner, S. (2005). Low-income students a caution about using data on pell grant recipients. Change: The Magazine Of Higher Learning, 37(4), 34-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/chng.37.4.34-43
US Department of Education,. (2016). Fact Sheet: Helping More Americans Complete College: New Proposals For Success | U.S. Department of Education. Ed.gov. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-helping-more-americans-complete-college-new-proposals-success
Wei, C., Horn, L., & Carroll, C. (2002). Persistence and attainment of beginning students with Pell grants (1st ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics.