If Stafford loans are like borrowing money from your stingy but understanding friend and private loans are like borrowing from a loan shark that will break your legs and kill your family, the Pell Grant is like a buddy buying you a beer without fuss about repayment.
Everyone loves the Pell Grant — a need based grant created to help reduce debt accrued by low income students — and its devil may care attitude towards doling out school cash, but recent Gallup data suggests recipients aren’t holding up their end of the deal.
In a poll of over 400 college and university presidents, Gallup found that half of those respondents reported that less than 50 percent of Pell recipients were graduating in six years or less.
A more narrow study released in August of last year by Hechinger Report — an independent, nonprofit journalism outfit focused on education research — found that of the major universities pulled — 32 private, 50 public — less than a third of Pell Grant recipients graduated in six years.
In fiscal year 2015, Pell Grants cost taxpayers $31.4 billion dollars. Since 2000, it’s cost taxpayers over $300 billion. It’s the country’s most expensive education program, and if things don’t change, future Penguins may need to find other ways to fund their schooling.
There are reasons for this beyond “poor people are lazy.” For starters, 91 percent of students receiving Pell Grants come from families earning less than $50,000, and over half come from families earning less than $20,000 a year. Students from lower income families often have less of a support structure and — based on how school systems are funded — Pell recipients also make up the majority of students in community and for-profit colleges, both of which have poor graduation rates across the board.
Despite this, last April Republican leaders proposed legislation that would cap the Pell Grant at its current maximum award of $5,775 for the next 10 years.
In 2005, the average cost of attending a public university as a resident was $12,127 and the Pell Grant maximum was $4,050. Today, 10 years later, the average cost is $24,061, just shy of double. Over 10 years, tuition doubled, and the Pell Grant only received a $1,725 increase.
Tuition doubling again 10 years from now may not be a guarantee, but expecting an increase in tuition isn’t unreasonable. The Pell Grant was meant as a means to help low-income students take on less debt while pursuing higher education. Freezing the cap when it already offsets such a small part of student loans might as well be gutting it for future students.
That being said, there is obviously a problem when the graduation rate for Pell recipients is so low.
Universities need to increase institutional support to help low-income students succeed, and there needs to be a serious investigation into whether or not students pursuing degrees at for profit institutions should be eligible for federal financial aid.
Either way, ensuring that graduation rates increase — especially those of students receiving Pell Grants — needs to be a priority. Otherwise, that money will eventually be stripped from the students that actually use the money to earn their degrees.
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