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Enrollment Jumps Linked to Growth of Pell Grants

The availability of more Pell Grant money has translated into higher enrollment at community colleges, a new study shows.

"The Growing Impact of New Pell Grant Funding," released at the annual meeting of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges, in New Orleans last week, examines 205 community colleges in 25 states.

It found that the number of Pell Grant awards on those campuses increased 56 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10, from about 690,000 students to 1.1 million. The total dollars awarded increased from $1.4 million to $2.5 million, or 76 percent in that same time.

The research project was conducted by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, Iowa State University, and California State University-Northridge, under the auspices of the National Rural Scholars Panel of the Rural Community College Alliance.

Full-time student enrollment increased nearly 14 percent (almost 187,000 students), while overall enrollment jumped about 9 percent (about 255,000 students) from 2008-09 to 2009-10. At the same time, the total number of Pell Grants rose by 388,588.

The report shows that 70 percent of full-time community college students received Pell Grants in the 2009 calendar year, up from 51 percent the year before.

More funding for Pell Grants has also meant that the marginal cost of attending community colleges has declined. While the average cost of tuition, fees, books, and supplies in the colleges surveyed increased by $255 (5 percent) from 2008-09 to 2009-10, the average Pell award rose by $596 (17 percent) in that same period.

With the expansion of the year-round Pell, students have also begun taking more credit hours. This summer support could eventually lower the time to degree, the report suggests.

Achieving the Obama administration's goal of leading the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020 will require investing in student financial aid. However, in the current political climate of spending cuts, Pell Grants are more likely to be trimmed than expanded. The administration's own proposed 2012 budget eliminates the summer Pell Grant, acknowledging that demand grew 10 times faster than expected.

Next year, the U.S.Department of Education budget calls for $41 billion for the program to help an estimated 9.6 million students. The poor economy has fueled tremendous growth in the program. Just a few years ago, in 2007, Pell Grants were awarded to 5.4 million students at a total cost of $14 billion.


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