Education Department to Open Pell Grant Opportunities to High School Students

The U.S. Department of Education announced this week that it will begin a pilot program to give high school students earlier access to Pell grants. Up to 10,000 eligible low-income high school students will be able to use grants to pay for dual-enrollment courses through the program. Students earn college credit from nearby institutions for these classes while working toward a high school diploma.

The pilot will cost the department up to $20 million for the 2016-2017 academic year. The maximum award per year, per student is $5,775.

Proponents of dual-enrollment courses say they especially benefit low-income and first-generation students; they provide college credit at a reduced rate and allow students to prepare for postsecondary education. Research has shown that students who take college credit courses in high school are more likely to matriculate and have higher retention rates in college.

The Education Department says opening Pell grants to high school students will make it more likely that these students will enroll in such classes.

“By offering federal Pell grants to eligible public high school students enrolling in college courses, the administration is expanding opportunities for students to enroll in high-quality, dual-enrollment programs with robust systems of student support,” the department said in a statement.

One downside of earlier access to Pell grant funding is the reduction in the amount of money students can use to pay for college. Students are eligible for only 12 semesters of such funding over their academic careers.

To ensure that students do not take dual-enrollment courses that will not advance their academic path, the Education Department has mandated that Pell grants can only be for “coursework that applies toward completion of a postsecondary credential at the participating institution.”

This pilot program is an experimental site, meaning the Education Department is able to suspend current restrictions — high school students are ineligible for Pell grant funding — to test a program’s efficacy. Earlier this year, the department began a pilot to extend Pell grant funding to incarcerated students.