… A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates and warping the country’s K-12 system.
Current Pell Grant spending is wasteful.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
A proposed solution
What if the government decreed that three years hence, students would only be eligible for Pell aid if enrolled in credit-bearing college courses, thus disqualifying remedial education for support?
Possible positive effects:
- More resources could go to ambitious students, giving them an incentive to work hard to prepare for college-level work.
- K-12 schools would become more accountable if they knew their graduates would only received college assistance if they were ready for college.
- Colleges would become more selective, rasing their standards of learning.
- Pell Grant money could be focused on the most qualified students, improving their chances of graduation.
In sum, disqualifying the use of Pell grants for remedial education would substantially reduce the gap between the number of students entering higher education and the number completing degrees.
Possible negative effects:
Yes, there are obvious downsides. Most significantly, many students wouldn’t be able to afford remedial education and thus would never go to college in the first place. Millions of potential Pell recipients — many of them minorities — might be discouraged from even entering the higher-education pipeline. Such an outcome seems unfair and cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.
Then again, it’s not so certain that these individuals are better off trying college in the first place. Most don’t make it to graduation….
Perhaps the greatest risk is that colleges would respond to the new rules in a perverse manner: by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial.” … would further dilute the value of a college degree.
Petrilli suggests the potential upside is sufficiently compelling to warrant a pilot program that would limit Pell Grants only to students ready to do college-level work.
Perhaps offer the deal to an entire state. Study what happens. My guess is that it would have a salutary effect on the K-12 system, on higher education and on college-completion rates. Let’s find out.