Report Promotes Pell Grants for High Schoolers in Early College Courses

A new report has recommended continuation of a pilot to allow high school students to use Pell grants to cover the costs of college courses. The Alliance for Excellent Education is pushing Congress to consider the test involving early college high schools and dual-enrollment programs because it believes the move could boost college enrollment and completion.

As the non-profit has long promoted, good results stack up when students get a strong taste of college during high school. These students are more likely to enroll in college, post higher college grade point averages and stick with their studies through to graduation. However, the organization, pointed out in "Now's the Time: Early College and Dual-Enrollment Programs in the Higher Education Act," too often, associated costs for participating in early-college and dual enrollment programs leave students from low and middle-income families out of the running.

These programs, which were available at 53 percent of postsecondary institutions in the 2010-2011 school year, also require high school-college partnerships to ensure the credits high school students earn count toward postsecondary credits.

In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Education under the previous administration implemented a $20 million experiment that gave high school students access to federal Pell grants for participation specifically in dual-enrollment programs at 44 institutions nationwide, most community colleges.

Now, under a new administration, the pilot project may disappear without any kind of follow-up assessment, according to the report. The alliance would like to see the next version of the Higher Education Act protect the pilot. Then, if it shows promising results, the organization would also like to update the Pell program to make it a permanent fixture.

According to one study cited in the report, students of color in early-college high school programs are nearly 10 times more likely to obtain a college degree than comparison students; and low-income students in these programs are 8.5 times more likely to obtain a college degree. Yet, the authors noted, just 10 percent of high school students participate in programs that offer college-credit courses.

"Opportunities for students to earn college credits while enrolled in high school can alter academic trajectories in a significant and positive direction, particularly for students from historically underserved backgrounds," the report asserted. "These efforts need continued attention from federal policymakers to improve access and affordability to open more pathways toward degree and credential attainment and expand opportunities for students to receive the education necessary for economic and personal success."

The report is openly available on the Alliance's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.