tc columbia

Redesigning the Pell Grant Program for the Twenty-First Century

By: Judith Scott-Clayton & Sandy Baum

Abstract

Redesigning the Pell Grant Program for the Twenty-First Century

In the face of growing concerns about the sustainability of current funding for the Pell Grant program, as well as increasing frustration with low rates of degree completion, we argue that the time has come to comprehensively redesign the Pell program to fit the needs of a twenty-first-century economy and student population.

To accomplish this, we propose three major structural reforms. First, we propose to augment the Pell program’s financial support with tailored guidance and support services that have been shown to improve academic and/or labor-market success, including separately tailored services for the distinctive circumstances of dependent and independent recipients. Second, we propose to dramatically simplify the eligibility and application process to ensure that the program reaches those who need it most, again tailoring the simplification to the distinctive circumstances of dependent and independent students. Finally, we propose several modifications to strengthen incentives for student effort and timely completion, without leading the program away from its core need-based (not merit-based) mission.

While significant congressional action would be required in order to implement our proposal, these reforms would not substantially increase the cost of the program, and we believe they are structurally and politically feasible.