The Lie About Pell Grants, the “Welfare of the 21st Century”

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Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, a Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, wants to fix Pell Grants. The program is so expensive, he complains, why aren’t more people graduating?

If only we could get those lazy students to graduate, he implies, the program would get cheaper. He’s wrong. Increasing graduation rates would certainly be very good for America, but it would end up costing the country more, not less.

Rehberg seems to want to connect Pell grants to achievement or graduation rates. According to a piece at Blog Talk Radio, Rehberg explained his position:

So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century. You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college. And there ought to be some kind of commitment and endgame.

Well I guess it’s good that Rehberg is interested in college graduation rates, but he’s implying that college students are lazy people living at the public’s expense. If someone can collect Pell without graduating for nine years, that’s a program that could be really abusive.
Perhaps theoretically, but just be careful what you wish for, Rehberg.

Now the graduation rate at American colleges is certainly too low. Only about 56 percent of American students who start college earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, and one is allowed to collect Pell for nine years, but those things are actually unconnected.

Pell Grants are only available to students from low income families (90 percent of Pell Grant recipients are from families making less than $41,000 a year) but these students don’t stay in college for a decade.

In fact, most college students from low income families who start college and don’t finish only attend college for a semester or two.

If we really wanted to improve graduation rates for low-income people that would result in most students staying in college for a much longer period of time. That would make Pell more expensive, not less. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer