Behind the Rise in Pell Grants: NY Times, Economix

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Behind the Rise in Pell Grants

May 24, 2011, 6:51 pm

By DAVID LEONHARDT

My column this week looks at Amherst College’s impressive recent track record of recruiting low- and middle-income students. Amherst now has a much higher share of Pell Grant recipients — who tend to come from the lower-half of the income distribution — than most other elite colleges.

It’s true that many other elite colleges have also increased their number of Pell recipients in recent years. And these colleges deserve praise for increasing financial aid and recruiting in new places. But they may not deserve quite as much praise as they have heaped on themselves.

The federal government, it turns out, deserves some of the credit.

In the last few years, the government has significantly expanded the Pell program, which is the largest federal aid program. Four years ago, 5.2 million students received Pell Grants. Last year (the 2009-10 academic year), 8.1 million students did, according to the Education Department. That’s an increase of 56 percent.

If colleges had not changed their admissions or financial-aid policies at all in the last few years, they probably would still have more Pell recipients today. Amherst’s increase in Pell recipients has nearly doubled since 2005, comfortably outpacing the national increase. But not every college has kept pace.

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