Ways to Increase College Access

by Zachary Hill

Recently, the Senate held a meeting focusing on student aid and college access in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Increases in federal funding seem unlikely, so the government is placing an emphasis on simplification of obtaining aid. Some of their goals include streamlining federal student aid and increasing flexibility in different programs. Justin Draeger’s article “3 Ways to Boost College Access ” suggests three recommendations to increase college access.

The recommendations are: better align the financial aid and college admissions processes, implement a “Pell Promise,” and offer flexibility in the Pell Grant program. Often a conflict exists between FAFSA and tax deadlines. Most families submit the FAFSA by January 1st, but most do not file their taxes until months later. This results in a delay of an actual financial award letters and reduced financial aid because financial aid is often given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Draeger suggests the use of prior-prior year (PPY) for earlier financial aid awards. A “Pell Promise,” which is a “commitment of funds from the federal government as early as the ninth grade,” would allow prospective college students from low-income families to be aware of grant eligibility earlier. Flexibility in the Pell Grant program could be changed to a “Pell Well” system, which would show students their lifetime Pell Grant eligibility. This would also allow them the take out funds from their “Pell Well” at their own pace.

These recommendations would greatly improve college access to many students who are indecisive about applying to colleges. Earlier financial aid information would encourage low-income students to apply. Greater flexibility in federal student aid would make college more affordable. Members of Congress should seriously consider these changes when reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

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