Our Fourth Idea


We promised you eight sensible policy ideas for Virginia’s eighth congressional district.  Three weeks ago we talked about gun safety.  Two weeks ago we talked about affordable housing.  Last week we announced our intention to further Congressman Moran’s work against inhumane testing on animals.

Today the topic is Pell Grants. 

It is time to improve our nation’s signature program for helping more Americans afford higher education.  Two proposals especially interest me.

One is to simplify the application process.  Instead of a complex process of determining whether someone is eligible for a Pell Grant, anyone’s eligibility could be determined simply through an assessment of tax returns – information the government already possesses!

The second proposal concerns supporting the students, rather than just handing them a check.  As proposed by Sandy Baum and Judith Scott-Clayton, each Pell Grant recipient would receive guidance and support services.  Particularly for students seeking shorter-term credentials with the goal of preparing for specific occupations, this added support will lead to more students earning credentials of value.

In the words of the academics advocating for this, such guidance “would for the first time make Pell a true program, and not just a grant.” They propose paying for this with five percent of Pell Grant funds.  This would decrease the average grant of $3,800 by about $200.

Here is the thinking:  Many students –– and especially those who are not recent high school graduates, seek additional education in order to get a better job.  (Almost 40% of Pell Grant recipients are over the age of 25.) But many set out with an unrealistic plan, either pursuing a career with few openings in their region or a field that has not been their traditional strength. Too many are oblivious to the potential for student debt to outstrip their capacity to pay if they don’t succeed in earning credentials that pay off.  And a significant percentage of these older students do not complete their degrees.  Studies show that simple, inexpensive coaching can affect students’ persistence and success in college.

Given the problems of both student debt and a dearth of trained workers for various fields, it only makes sense to design the nation’s flagship education funding program to help address these issues.

Thanks for reading.  And please let us know what you think of this idea and whether you have other ideas I should be thinking about!


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