Expand access to Pell Grants

A current push in Congress would make the financial aid program more flexible to college students.

A group of national legislators is weighing changes to the Pell Grant to make it more accessible to students who don’t take a traditional path through college, the Minnesota Daily reported last week.

 A U.S. House committee has proposed creating a Flex Pell Grant program that would give students a set amount of funding over six years that they can use as needed until the money is gone or they complete their program.

For the growing number of students who don’t follow the traditional four-year track of completing college, this could be a much-needed relief.

Our current financial aid system favors the traditional track through school. And as a result, finding aid outside of that cycle — including during summer semesters — can be tricky.

A short-lived summer Pell Grant program, which was popular with University of Minnesota students, was cut off in 2011, the Daily reported. Students who used it need an option to get their crucial financial aid whenever they’re enrolled.

Though it’s a costly program, totaling almost $32 billion nationwide this year, it’s necessary for low-income students at the University and across the country. At the University alone, about a quarter of undergraduates reaped the benefits of $30 million in Pell Grants in 2013.

It’s possible that the Flex Pell Grant proposal floating in Congress could have little or no extra cost to taxpayers, as it would simply remove unnecessary restrictions on the grant. The changes would also put more responsibility on students to plan their education and to use the grants more effectively to finish college in the allotted time.

As the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization moves forward, we encourage Congress to act swiftly to iron out a policy that would effectively implement changes to the Pell Grant so more students can get the aid they need when they need it.