The GOP is once again proposing a major change to the way one of the most popular federal grant programs is run. House representatives Francis Rooney from Florida and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, introduced House Bill H.R. 4414 on November 15th, which would force students to repay Pell grants received if they do not graduate with a degree, within six years. The bill would apply to all different types of institutions, from small trade schools to large public universities.
Rep. Norman states that “this legislation will ultimately save taxpayer dollars by holding Pell Grant recipients accountable for not graduating on time, rather than leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill. I look forward to working with my colleague, Rep. Rooney, to move this bill through the legislative process.”
In reviewing the wording of the bill, it states that the grant would ultimately be turned into an Unsubsidized Loan, which is very similar to how the TEACH Grant is treated when a student does not meet the program requirements and follow the proper steps when entering the teaching field. How this may be reported, monitored and ultimately enforced, is a whole other matter, especially since it seems that students would have ways to appeal. Exceptions would include changing programs, those joining the active military, the death of a relative, personal injury/illness or other special circumstances determined by an institution. Those leaving a program a second time after appeal would be ineligible to receive any more future Pell grants.
According to education watchdogs, the bill is not likely to pass as a stand-alone outside of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, nor would it be likely to gain much traction in terms of support. Tamara Hiler, a senior policy adviser at Third Way, a centrist think tank said “it’s good to see that there is a focus on completion, however, the fact that students would be the ones bearing the responsibility for having to pay back these grants, is a really problematic way of approaching the problem. By placing the burden on low-income students receiving Pell Grants, the bill would remove all incentives for institutions with low completion rates to do better.”