‘Swirlers’ may run out of Pell eligibility

“Swirling” — multiple transfers between two-year and four-year colleges — is increasingly common in higher education, notes Inside Higher Ed. Swirlers risk running out of eligibility for Pell Grants under new rules, which limit students to 12 semesters.

Trident Technical College, in South Carolina, students who changed programs multiple times, or who enrolled after pursuing, but not earning, a degree at a for-profit college are among those who are most likely to have run out of eligibility, said Meg Howle, the college’s vice president for advancement.

About 540 of the college’s 22,748 students lost their Pell Grant eligibility and still returned this fall, Howle said. The college does not know how many lost eligibility and dropped out as a result.

Students who had been enrolled in college before but still needed remedial courses were also affected, because those students had used up more of their Pell Grant eligibility without earning credits that count toward a degree, Howle said.

Students who start at community colleges and transfer to four-year universities could run out of time, said David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

About 4 percent of California State University students lost Pell Grant eligibility because of the 12-semester cap, said Michael Uhlenkamp, director of media relations. At Sacramento State University, some brand-new transfer students already had received 12 semesters of Pell aid, said Edward Mills, associate vice president for enrollment management. Some had lingered at community colleges. Others had “swirled” for too long.