NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pell Grants Fund Remedial Education with Poor Results

May 10, 2013

The Federal Pell Grant Program awards a maximum of $5,550 to needy students. A large portion of the program's expenditures, which total about $40 billion, is flowing to people who simply aren't prepared to do college-level work, says Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

  • Sixty-six percent of low-income community college students need remedial or development education.
  • According to Complete College American, a nonprofit education group, 33 percent of students at four-year colleges need additional education just to get them to an acceptable level of college readiness.
  • Sadly, less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree in six years.

Limiting the length of time during which low-income college students can receive Pell Grants would encourage low-income high schoolers with college ambitions to become more college-ready with the understanding that the government will not pay for college indefinitely.

  • To do this, high schools need to offer more college-prep courses and make a greater effort to ensure their teachers are up to the task and their students are prepared.
  • Better preparation could also include higher graduation standards, and including college matriculation and graduate rates in high school accountability systems.
  • By reducing the stream of federal dollars to universities, colleges would become more selective in choosing only student who are properly prepared for college-level courses.

The downside to limiting Pell Grants is that those who cannot afford remedial education would likely never go to college. However, many of these students are unlikely to succeed in college, regardless of developmental education.

  • Instead, many of these low-income students would be more successful in job-training programs that prepare them for jobs that will allow them to earn a decent living.
  • The proposal to limit Pell Grants, if tested in one state, would likely improve the K-12 system, higher education and college completion rates.

Source: Michael Petrilli, "Pell Grants Shouldn't Pay for Remedial College," Education Next, May 1, 2013.


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