Two Pell Grants?

So far, 2013 has been awash in proposals to reshape federal financial aid. Last week saw the release of the final reports in the Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, a $3.3-million effort from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in its first major foray into financial aid policy. With the Higher Education Act, the main law governing the federal government’s investment in higher education, scheduled to expire at the end of the year, the policy proposals are likely to keep coming.

Many of those proposals, though, have advocated overhauling smaller grant programs, student loans and tax credits while largely leaving the Pell Grant alone. They would perhaps limit the amount of time that students can receive the grants, require recipients to attend full-time or offer extra money to students who move more quickly toward a degree — but not radically transform the grant, considered the bedrock of federal financial aid.

A new proposal released today from a group convened by the College Board (and funded by the Gates and Lumina Foundations) takes a different tack, focusing solely on overhauling the Pell Grant to better meet the needs of a growing population of nontraditional students. While the report calls for preserving the Pell Grant Program, in some senses it would be in name only: for students over 25 in particular, the system the report’s authors envision differs sharply from the Pell Grant as it exists now.

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