Heard this on the radio the other day:
The US federal government-funded Pell Grant is a need-based award for 9 million US students. In sum, it’s quite a bit of cash: $34.5 billion each year, but break those numbers down, and we’re looking at just over $3,800 per student per year. 1
Yet according to a College Board report from late last year, the average total price (tuition, room, board, books, etc.) for public, in-state four-year universities for the 2012-2013 academic year is a whopping $22,261. Compared to that, the Pell money is a drop in the bucket — and let’s not talk about total costs at private universities.
Moreover, the average Pell Grant recipient is changing along with the rest of the higher education space — nearly half of the students are adults looking for a new shot at economic advancement.
But the Pell Grant was conceived almost fifty years ago to serve traditional (i.e. young, inexperienced, low-overhead) students, at a time when a motivated student really could foot the bill for a four-year school with just a part-time job waiting tables.
The real shocker is this: only 3 percent of the non-traditional student recipients ever receive a bachelor’s degree. Presumably, life intervenes (and many students’ needs may be met by a few courses or a two-year degree), but it’s safe to say that, overall, the money simply isn’t achieving its goals. Meanwhile American students have managed to rack up over $1 trillion in college debt. In fact, according to one calculation, student debt is going up by $2,853.88 per second — and that’s not including accrued interest over the life of the debt.2 A little math reveals the following: at this rate, students of American colleges blow through the total yearly allocation of Pell Grants in just 140 days.
A system built to provide a solid, free foundation for financing a college education isn’t providing enough to either population it serves, and it just isn’t working. We’re not really okay with that. Nobody should be. So…what now?