Thousands of low-income students will soon be able to receive federal Pell Grants to enroll in college courses while still in high school. The program, launched by the Obama administration, will begin this summer.
The experimental program is known as dual enrollment, and the administration will be announcing 44 colleges that are expected to participate in the program. Nearly 80% of the institutions selected to participate in the dual enrollment program are community colleges. As reported by Anya Kamenetz of NPR, the new program will be active in 23 states with over $20 million in funding.
"Innovation is an important underpinning in our efforts to expand college access and increase college completion for our nation's students," said Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell. "These sites will help us learn how the availability of Pell Grants impacts participation and success in dual enrollment programs."
According to The Christian Science Monitor, among schools expected to take part include Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia; Guilford Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina; Hagerstown Community College in Hagerstown, Maryland; Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts; Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Illinois; and Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 2010-2011, more than 1.4 million high school students took courses offered by a college or university for credit through dual enrollment programs. This federal program will increase high school students' access to college courses and help them better prepare for the challenges of college-level work.
The Obama administration has long been working to close the attainment gap between wealthier and predominately white students and low-income and minority students. According to statistics from the Education Department, less than 10% of children born in the bottom quartile of household incomes earn a bachelor's degree by age 25. By contrast, over 50% of children born in the top quartile will earn a degree by that age.
Research demonstrates that dual enrollment programs tend to have positive outcomes for low-income students. When these students are exposed to college-level rigor, they often develop clearer interests in attending college. Consequently, they complete their degrees at much higher rates than low-income high school students who did not experience dual enrollment.
Some, however, have raised concerns about the new program. The evidence on whether Pell Grants increase college enrollment is mixed; colleges also tend to raise their prices when federal student aid becomes more generous. Furthermore, some critics wonder whether the dual enrollment function of Pell Grants will substantially increase its usage or simply subsidize those high school students who would be taking college level courses anyway. Many of these concerns are outlined by Preston Cooper at Forbes.
Hence, the Obama administration regards the dual enrollment initiative as a pilot program. It will last for three years, and then policymakers and educators will review the data on whether the program achieved its intended outcomes. The Obama administration is confident that the program will be successful.
For interested readers, the full fact sheet about the program can be found on the Department of Education's website.