Under current federal law, students are ineligible for Pell Grants until they graduate from high school. But some gathered on Capitol Hill this week would like to change that.
"For low-income students, they are essentially penalized for taking college early," Adam Lowe, the executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., told me in an interview this week before the briefing was to take place.
Lowe's organization, which accredits concurrent and dual-enrollment programs, would like federal financial aid to be extended to students in these programs to offset the costs and encourage participation. Research shows that taking dual-enrollment courses increases the likelihood that students will graduate and complete college on time, he notes.
With these programs, students can take college-level courses while still in high school, either in their high school or on a college campus, and earn college credit.
NACEP was scheduled to host a briefing May 1 in a Senate building to make the case for value of dual enrollment and extending Pell grants to high school students with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), representatives from community colleges, early college high schools, and the Middle College National Consortium.
Whether students pay for dual-enrollment courses, or how much, depends on where they live. About two-thirds of the programs charge students for at least a portion of the enrollment costs, but the amount varies widely, Lowe said.
Prices are often dramatically reduced, just $25 of $65 per credit hour, or are made available for free to those eligible for subsidized school meals. The actual cost for providing these programs is often absorbed by the higher education institutions, he added.
What Lowe and other advocates of these programs would like to see is for there to be a federal policy change to cover these costs for all low- and middle-income students.
"The idea is to level the playing field," Lowe said.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are drafting bills that would include such a provision, he said, as well as other measures to encourage dual-enrollment participation.
There are several proposals related to financial-aid reform being discussed, including a recent report from the College Board. The U.S. Department of Education late last year asked for colleges willing to be experimental sites for new financial aid strategies, including giving high school students Pell Grant money to pay for college. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recently suggested a promise of a Pell Grant in 9th grade would motivate students to pursue higher education.
The price tag for any extension of Pell Grants is hard to estimate, but currently about one-fourth of college students are eligible fo the federal-aid program, Lowe said. And about 1.4 million high school students are taking more than 2 million college courses across the country.
The goal of today's briefing is to educate congressional staffers about dual enrollment as an effective, affordable way to help students complete college on time, says Lowe. The concept of allowing high school students to tap into Pell funding will be positioned as an investment in their overall education and could be revenue neutral, as it gets students to a degree more quickly, he told me.
UPDATE (12:35 p.m.): Some states are wrestling with how to cover the costs for dual-enrollment programs.Under legislation approved in Florida last year, the state shifted the cost of dual-enrollment courses from higher education institutions to local school districts. The move surprised many district leaders, as the expense was not budgeted. A story in the St. Petersburg Tribune said that, with more than 50,000 students participating in a recent school year, the costs for districts could reach $60 million.