A Proposal to Redefine Pell Grants

April 11, 2013

This week’s guest blog post is from Jillian Klein, Capella’s senior policy analyst – Title IV. 

Jillian Klein, Sr. Policy Analyst – Title IV

Jillian Klein, Sr. Policy Analyst – Title IV

A report was published this week by the College Board recommending a restructuring of the Pell Grant program in a way that would build two “tracks” for Pell Grant recipients. “Pell Grant Y” would be available to students aged 24 and younger and would rely on parental Adjusted Gross Income data to determine eligibility. The report also recommends that the government would open savings accounts for 11- and 12-year-olds who would meet the eligibility criteria in order to help supplement the grant funds. “Pell Grant A” is geared towards adult learners over the age of 24, and would include partial grant payments for those students who just missed the eligibility cutoff. This program would also require that recipients receive academic and career advising from a third-party to help them select the best program of study, ongoing academic and career advising from the institution after enrolling, and that access to state and federal income support programs are increased to assist these students in covering their costs. Finally, the College Board report recommends a sort of “Pell Well” so that students can receive Pell Grants year round and shorten their time to completion.


This report also makes some suggestions regarding tying funding (particularly funding from campus-based aid programs) to outcomes, and acknowledges that measurements like graduation rates, employment and earnings data and the like must be adjusted across institutions to account for the varied population of students at different institutions. This recommendation is spot on and something that many schools – including Capella – have been in support of as a way to truly understand learning outcomes. The College Board’s report also suggests that institutional eligibility might be tied to a version of the 90/10 requirement – a metric that currently requires for-profit schools to obtain less than 90% of their revenue from Title IV sources. The 90/10 requirement has historically been viewed as a measure of “quality,” which hasn’t ever made sense and really has no tie to outcomes, student success, or academic rigor. I think there is much conversation to have regarding what makes sense in terms of outcomes measurement; 90/10, in my opinion, is really not the measurement for quality and outcomes that we should be shooting for.


This is the first Pell Grant recommendation we have seen from any of the financial aid reports this year to suggest two tracks for funding; it is an interesting way to imagine student aid and the first time we’ve read a report that suggests that our traditional students might have different needs than the adult learner. The Federal Student Aid program has been built around a one-size-fits-all model –and this extends beyond just funding – for too long, and it’s encouraging to read a recommendation that gives a nod to the changing demographics of the American student. While I’d suggest that things like “academic and career advising” can really benefit students at any age, it’s a step in the right direction to start a conversation about how to meet students where they are, at whatever point in their life they find themselves working on an undergraduate degree. From here, we can build metrics and success indicators that really make sense for the variety of students who are working on their degree – beyond the antiquated “first time/full time” measurement system that has been the standard.

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