Helping Students Achieve Success without Breaking the Bank

Recently, Congress approved a bill to fund the government with broad, bipartisan support. It was a bill that averted another government shutdown.

But more importantly, it actually made progress for folks in our region. For a complete rundown of how it helps, check out my website here.

There were a lot of good initiatives in the law that was signed. But there was one that didn’t get much of any attention in the news. That’s a shame because it helps students succeed without breaking the bank. It all has to do with the Pell Grant program.

Making college, at any level, more affordable is important to me and something I’ve been working on since before I came to Congress. I also heard a lot about this issue during my recent town hall tour of colleges in our region.

One particular problem we are dealing with is the diminished purchasing power of grant-based financial aid, specifically Pell Grants. These grants have been used by millions of families in need of financial support to go to college and finish with a degree. I continue to push for a plan to restore the purchasing power of the Pell Grant program. Here is a quick refresher.

That’s not the only challenge related to Pell Grants. A few years ago Congress enacted a cost-cutting measure that ended year-round access to Pell Grants. That move was short-sighted. It didn’t save taxpayers much money and put an even bigger burden on students trying to finish school early.

Imagine this. Imagine you’re a student at a community or technical college working to get a professional certification so you can get a job and support a family. Many of these programs are year-long programs. So, you start in the fall quarter and you have financial aid through Pell Grants to help pay for school. That support continues in the winter and spring.

But when the student wants to complete that program in the summer, that financial aid isn’t available. As a result, students have to either take on debt, delay the completion of their program, or drop out altogether. As I’ve spoken to higher education leaders in our region, we’ve certainly seen a lot of people drop out due to this misguided policy.

Instead of being able to use aid they were eligible for to take summer school classes, students could only use it for the fall and spring semesters. If someone wanted to accelerate the time it took to get a diploma or certificate but used Pell Grants to pay for school, they were out of luck.

Congress realized the mistake and took action through the government funding bill. For the rest of this year and for 2018, students can once again use Pell Grants year-round. This is great news and means that some folks will be able to accelerate their studies and finish a degree sooner.

But our work is not done. We need to make this temporary fix a permanent one. To that effect I’ve sponsored legislation to reauthorize the use of Pell Grants year-round.

I’m glad students who need aid to finish their education will now have a more helpful Pell Grant tool. Going forward, we need to make sure it stays that way.