June 22 2012

Pell-ter Skelter: Program to Help Low-income Students Go to College Now a De Facto Entitlement Program.

Vicki E. Alger

A new report from the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy says the 40 year old federal Pell Grant Program is “out of control.” Co-author Duke Cheston explains:

Started in 1972 to help poor students pay for college, Pell now extends well beyond the original intention. The amount of money given to each individual student has stayed largely flat over the program’s four decades of existence. But the number of students in the Pell Grant Program has grown so vast that currently about 60 percent of undergraduate students in the country are receiving stipends from it. … Though not technically an entitlement program, it has become a de facto entitlement—everyone who qualifies gets a grant, regardless of budgeted funding. …low-income students (the supposed focus of Pell grants) aren’t graduating at better rates since the program began in 1972. Since 1970, the percentage of high school graduates from the bottom income quartile going to college has increased by about 60 percent—a substantial amount. However, the percentage of those students who received a bachelor’s degree by age 24 actually decreased from 21.9 to 19.9 percent.

Once money is so readily available for so many students, colleges and universities can raise their prices without fear of losing students—since the government will continue to pay. Helping college-bound students with genuine financial need is one thing. Subsidizing yet another government entitlement program—at a time when taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet as it is—is quite another.

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