College & Workforce Readiness

Pell Grants Helping Improve College Access for Rural Students

By Caralee J. Adams — February 10, 2012 2 min read
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New research reveals that the expansion of the Pell Grant program is helping students at community colleges—including rural institutions—take more credits, allowing many to shift from part- to full-time status.

The University of Alabama Policy Education Center released a report today that looks at Kansas as a case study for the impact of the federal student-aid program. It found that as Pell Grant dollars given to Kansas students nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010, enrollments at community colleges grew, along with the proportion of students attending full time rather than part time. Also, federal stimulus money provided to the state in 2009 helped hold tuition prices to 5 percent, further improving access by keeping costs more affordable.

The report, Pell Grants and the Lifting of Rural America’s Future, notes that rural community college students have the highest rate of Pell Grant participation and incur the highest rates of debt, due to out-of-pocket expenses such as transportation and child care.

Pell dollars in Kansas grew by 98 percent from about $20.5 million to $40.4 million and awards grew by 75 percent in two years years. The money for tuition, fees, books, and supplies enabled more students to enroll, sign up for more hours, and change their status to full time at both rural and suburban colleges in the state.

Rural community colleges make up nearly six in 10 of all U.S. community colleges, and enrollment is growing fast, the report notes. Among the new credit students added between 2001-02 and 2007-08, those attending rural community colleges comprised 43 percent of the enrollment growth, a rate higher than the increase at urban and suburban colleges.

About 33 percent of total enrollments at U.S. community colleges are at rural institutions and 30 percent at suburban and 31 percent at urban schools.

In next year’s federal budget, the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,550 was preserved, despite some threats earlier in the year of cutting the program. As the administration pushes for more students to complete college, the federal aid program is seen by many as vital to providing access to low-income students. Most Pell Grant awards today are given to students with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year.

The University of Alabama also surveyed state community college directors nationally about the potential impact of changes in the program, and the majority felt reducing the maximum Pell Grant would lower community college enrollment in their state.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.