Pell Grant experiment needs rural scrutiny

The Department of Education recently announced an experiment in which it will make Pell Grants available for up to 10,000 high school dual enrollment students in the 2016-17 school year

The DoE wants to see the effects the needs-based Pell Grant funding has on the college attendance rates and college college success of lower income students.

The experiment is one that rural schools and rural communities should watch closely.

Rural areas have more students living in poverty than in urban ones, which gives them a proportionally larger stake in the outcome than metropolitan areas.

Most of the articles about the experimental program, such as these from The Washington Post, The Atlantic and ECampusNews, seem to focus on programs in which high school students from lower income groups attend classes on college campuses.

(Chester E. Finn Jr. says in an article on EducationNext that the Pell Grants would be restricted to students who take courses on a college campus or online. I was unable to locate any other source that mentioned that location restriction.)

When college-level courses are offered on college campuses, the college outcomes are significantly better than when the courses are offered on high school campuses.

We know, however, that the majority of dual enrollment students do not take classes on college campuses; they take classes in their high schools taught by high school faculty credentialed by a higher education institution (usually a community college).

I suspect that restricting government funding to only students who take college courses at a college or online would put rural students at a competitive disadvantage.

Rural students are often long distances from the nearest college campus. Coordination of class schedules and transportation could make college attendance an impossibility for rural high school students.

Taking classes online might not prove much more feasible than commuting to a physical campus:  High speed internet is unavailable at many rural schools and poor students may have no Internet access at home.

Less obvious than those considerations, but perhaps more problematic, is whether the Pell Grant rules will keep some students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

For example, if Jason is a math and computer whiz but a disaster in classes that are reading and writing intensive, would his low GPA keep him from college work in the field that interests him? Such things happen.

In an urban area, Jason could probably find other nerds to work with, or get access to online training through computers and computer access at a public library. In a rural area, he may have no access to any of those resources which might make the difference between his graduating and not graduating, between a good job and no job.

Those of us who want rural young people to have as much access to education as their metropolitan peers, need to keep a close eye on the DoE experiment with Pell Grants for high schoolers.

3 thoughts on “Pell Grant experiment needs rural scrutiny

  1. At my last position, there were many dual enrolled students from the local high school who took classes at the community college where I worked. They were quite successful in taking the classes with us, using our facilities, and our instructors. I worked at an eastern North Carolinian school considered rural and agrarian. Most of the students worked on farms or in one of the local factories. Dual enrollment gave the high school students a competitive edge as the high schools in the area were often subpar. In this case, the requirement that students take classes on a physical college campus would have been met.


    1. I’m sure there are plenty of stories like yours where high school students really get a college experience as well as college credits, Beth. I wish I felt more confident that rural students everywhere have access to a college experience now or that the Pell Grant proposal will make things better. We’ll have to keep a close watch on what happens. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Comments are closed.