In California’s Central Valley, 10 percent of Pell Grants went to students who lost aid eligibility for dropping out, failing their classes or earning low grades, reports the Fresno Bee. As many as 25 percent of Pell recipients at community colleges fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” in a typical semester.
Low-income students get up to $5,500 in college aid; whatever isn’t needed for tuition goes to the student for living expenses. The “refund” makes it possible for low-income adults to pay a babysitter, buy gas for the car, pay for books and survive while they try to improve their futures. But it also provides an incentive to enroll at a low-cost community college — California’s are the cheapest in the nation — for the money.
Pell recipients must show academic progress but have nine years to earn a certificate or degree. While students who drop out mid-term or get all F’s are supposed to repay the grant, the U.S. Education Department doesn’t track how much is repaid, the Bee reports. Nor does the department know how many aid recipients fail their classes.
Only 4 percent of Pell recipients at Fresno State fail to make satisfactory academic progress. The numbers are much higher for community college students.
In the spring 2010 semester at Fresno City College — the latest semester for which figures were available — about one-fourth of the students who won Pell Grants got warning letters for failing to maintain a C-minus average, dropping too many classes or dropping out.
. . . At Reedley College and the State Center Community College District’s centers in northeast Fresno, Madera and Oakhurst, 1,140 students — one-fourth of the Pell Grant recipients — got warning letters in spring 2010 for unsatisfactory academic progress.
. . . In the fall 2010 semester at College of the Sequoias, nearly one-quarter of students on financial aid, including Pell Grants, got warning letters.
West Hills Community College District’s Coalinga and Lemoore colleges sent warning letters to nearly 11% of Pell Grant recipients in the spring 2010 semester, but only 5% in the fall 2010 semester.
Failing students should lose eligibility for aid after one semester, John Cummings, Reedley College’s vice president for admissions and records, told the Bee. Currently, students can fail for two semesters before losing the right to more money; many successfully appeal for a third semester of aid.