The Obama administration has announced that thousands of low-income students will be eligible through a $20 million experimental program to take college courses while still in high school. The program will begin during the 2016-2017 school year and will be available to high school students who are taking college courses through "dual enrollment" programs.
According to Morgan Jacobsen, along with the Associated Press, these Pell Grant programs allow students to take courses at local colleges and earn college credit. Pell Grants are available to low-income students and do not require repayment.
"A postsecondary education is one of the most important investments students can make in their future. Yet the cost of this investment is higher than ever, creating a barrier to access for some students, particularly those from low-income families," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
Spencer Jenkins, a spokesman for the Utah System of Higher Education, says in Utah, 36% of high school juniors and seniors participated in the dual enrollment program, and most of them took freshman Math 1050 or English 1010, general education courses required by most students in Utah.
Because of the considerable number of learners who participate, Utah has one of the largest concurrent enrollment programs in the US and has been a part of the program for about thirty years. State funds that make it possible for students to pay only $5 per class credit. Salt Lake Community College has tuition costs of $123 per credit while the University of Utah has per credit costs of up to $760. Concurrent enrollment students save between $1,300 and $13,500 by participating in the dual enrollment classes.
But since taking simultaneous courses is already inexpensive for students in Utah, the question is whether students in the state need this program. The Education Department has not yet selected Utah to be part of the new program, but Jenkins says Pell Grant assistance would still be a benefit to many students in the state.
Over 1.4 million high school students took dual enrollment classes last year, reports Lauren Camera of US News and World Report. Those students who qualify for the Pell Grant program will be able to earn at least 12 college-level hours while still attending high school. This national strategy could increase college access to low-income students and those who would be the first in their families to attend college.
Another announcement from the Education Department last week stated that incarcerated individuals would be allowed to use Pell Grants to earn a certificate or degree while still in prison.
Pell grants cover tuition, books, and fees for qualified students, while dual-enrollment programs offer students an opportunity to save money, earn credits toward a degree, and gain a better understanding of the college experience.
The Washington Post reports that a majority of public schools join colleges to assist 1.4 million students in obtaining higher education credits according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan think-tank. However, minority and financially-strapped students are usually underrepresented.
"States like Iowa, Colorado, Florida that have put policies in place to ensure course access, quality, transferability are seeing large number of students, including more ethnically diverse students, than states with barriers like having students pay full tuition," said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, director of high school and STEM at the Education Council.
In an explanation of the Pell program on the US Department of Education website, the DOE states that a college degree is becoming a necessary step for those aspiring to enter the middle class. Thirty-five percent of job openings will require the candidate to have at least a bachelor's degree, and another 30% will necessitate at least an associate's degree or some college work.
The Pell Grant program is also in place to support community colleges to be gateways to economic prosperity and educational opportunities.