Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing to bring back year-round Pell Grants, which allow students across the nation and at UT to access federal aid during summer semesters.
Currently, Pell Grants, which are capped at $5,815 and are expected to last the entire school year, are accessible to students who express financial need. Year-round Pell Grants, which give students additional aid for the summer, lasted for three years until the program was cut by President Barack Obama in 2011 because the plan cost more than budget experts and policy makers expected, according to a paper released by think tank New America in 2015. It was estimated to cost around $400 million but ended up at $2.1 billion, five times more than anticipated.
Congressman Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, and 123 other House Democrats sent a letter to the House and Senate committees on Appropriations and Labor, Health and Human Services and Education on Nov. 1 to reinstate Pell Grant funding during the summer. Scott is a ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The letter urges those in the Committees on Appropriations to not cut the funding Pell Grants receive for Fiscal Year 2017 but rather distribute the $7.8 billion surplus of funds from unused Pell Grants to students who require financial assistance during the summer.
“Any rescission to the Pell Grant surplus is a direct threat to educational opportunity for our nation’s low-income students,” members of Congress said in the letter.
Bringing back the year-round Pell Grant to help fund the summer sessions aligns with the goals of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to have students graduate in four years, as well as recommendations the board is making to the Texas Legislature for the upcoming Legislative session regarding increases in Texas grant programs for the summer, said Ken Martin, assistant commissioner for Financial Services.
Programs such as TEXAS Grant and Texas Public Education Grant currently are not available for students in the summer and the UT Grant is limited in summer school aid, according to UT’s financial aid office.
The primary source of aid for summer school from UT’s Office of Financial Aid comes from loans, said Kendall Slagle, content strategist in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.
The THECB is recommending the Texas Legislature to increase funding to allow access to financial aid in the summer to those who complete a 30-hour minimum of course credit for the fall, spring and summer semesters in a school year. Martin said this lets students have more flexibility to complete their course work in four years.
“What the [30-hour minimum] does is, it allows the student that may need to work to fill the gap, that they may take various different avenues of semester credit hours,” Martin said. “They could take 12, 12 and six over the summer.”
Sergio Cavazos, Senate of College Councils president, said he supports the idea of increased summer financial aid, because he believes it will give students a better academic experience.
“It really stresses you out when you feel like you’re falling behind in your degree and that you’re going to have to pay for summer classes out of your own pocket,” said Cavazos, a government senior. “Year-round Pell Grants would be a really proactive way to help students graduate on time with reduced debt.”