The US Department of Education (ED) recently announced higher education institutions can begin to award year-round Pell grants for students starting July 1, 2017. Before these changes, students could only receive Pell grants for their fall and spring semesters. The change reinstates what was briefly implemented in 2009 but pulled back in 2012 due to funding concerns.
Congress approved the restoration of year-round Pell in the spending bill it passed last month—delivering on a longtime priority of advocates for access to student financial aid. But colleges and universities were awaiting guidance from ED on how the program would be implemented. The Department recommends that, unless a student has remaining eligibility from the current award year, colleges may pay out money from the 2017-18 grant for students attending classes this summer. Thus, students enrolled in this year’s summer semester can receive a portion of their Pell award given that they will receive an additional Pell award for the fall and spring semesters.
With an estimated 60,000 students enrolled in Utah’s public colleges during the summer semester, 40% of all USHE students, this reinstatement of Summer Pell is a significant change that could assist Utah college students. Such grants are awarded based on a calculated estimate of a student’s family contribution towards paying for college.
The Pell grant program is one of the primary sources of gift financial aid (no repayment required) available to college students nationwide. More than half of students enrolled at Utah’s public colleges and universities receive some form of gift aid, of whom approximately 68% receive a Pell grant. In fact, more students receive a Pell grant than take out a federal loan in Utah.
However, despite the significant amount helping Utah college students, recent reports indicate Utah has the lowest rate of completions for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In fact, the report concludes Utah is the only state in which there is a positive correlation between poverty rates and FAFSA completions—not because the state is successful in helping low-income students complete the FAFSA, but because FAFSA completion rates are so extremely low. Utah is the only state where not a single school district had more than half of its high school graduates complete the FAFSA last year.