Recent study and survey findings around the impact of year-round Pell (YRP) signal an opportunity for colleges and universities to increase awareness about the benefits of the grant aid.
YRP awards are tied to gains in students’ credit accumulation, completion rates and employment earnings, according to a study by Dr. Vivian Liu of the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teacher’s College. However, many eligible low-income students are unaware of YRP aid or do not take advantage of it, which could hinder their momentum towards degree completion, research finds.
Dr. Vivian Liu
“I am disappointed to see that there are less than 20 percent of the people who are eligible actually using the year-round Pell,” said Liu, a CCRC postdoctoral research associate. “This is free money.”
Liu’s study revealed that for each $1,000 of additional YRP grant funding, summer enrollment increases by 27 percentage points, the likelihood of associate degree completion increases by 2.2 percentage points and third year earnings from college entry increase by $2,182.
Part of the reason low-income students are not using the aid funding is because colleges aren’t pushing YRP, Liu said.
“They aren’t telling the students, ‘Hey, come back for school,’ or even having enough classes in the summer,” she said. Other factors such as challenges during the FAFSA application process, summer travel plans or a decision to work instead may prevent eligible students from receiving or using YRP aid for summer enrollment.
Even so, a recent survey from the American Association of Community Colleges found that YRP has, in part, led to increases in summer enrollment at roughly 186 community colleges representing 1.9 million students.
“Although a causal link between the summer Pell and enrollment links cannot be drawn, the responses show that summer 2018 enrollments improved in a robust way that might not have been anticipated absent the new year-round Pell Grant” restored in 2017, the survey said.
Colleges can further encourage eligible YRP students to enroll in the summer by offering more classes if necessary, hiring more adjunct faculty to accommodate students and being responsive and ready to serve the needs of low-income students.
“A lot of students drop out after the first or second summer,” Liu said, adding that from an equity lens, it is important for institutions to financially and academically help students continue the momentum towards their degree completion.
Having comprehensive advising in place is integral so that students are not using YRP funding to take courses that do not fulfill degree requirements.
“We monitor that fairly closely because that is a requirement of Pell eligibility,” said Dr. Lynn C. Neault, vice chancellor of student services for San Diego Community College District (SDCCD).
Across the three colleges in the district – San Diego City College, Mesa College and Miramar College – approximately 20 percent of students receive YRP. Students receive notification of their YRP eligibility during other semesters they receive Pell awards.
By investing more resources into promoting YRP, Liu said that colleges and the government not only support students, but they also “reap the benefits” of the return on investment when students complete their degree and enter the workforce.
“It’s not hard to calculate a scenario where the tax income from the students gaining a certain degree would actually pay off and bring more to the government than what they already spend,” she said.
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.