Strengthening Pell Program Would Help ‘Non-Traditional’ African American Students, Report States

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

A majority of African American undergraduates are now categorized as “non-traditional” students, mainly because they are more likely than other demographics to enroll in college while juggling full-time jobs and families, according to a new report from the National Urban League (NUL).  These students need a comprehensive and customizable approach to improve their success in higher education, including strengthening the Pell Grant Program, the report said.

The report, “From Access to Completion: A Seamless Path to College Graduation for African Americans,” finds that 65 percent of African American college students are non-traditional or independent. Forty-eight percent of independent African American undergraduate students are single parents, compared to 23 percent of white students, 34 percent of Latinos, 36 percent of Native Americans and 19 percent of Asians.

These personal responsibilities can have a “direct impact” on their choice of institution and matriculation, as well as their completion rates and the amount of financial aid they are awarded. According to the report, 42 percent of independent African American students are enrolled in two-year institutions – with an additional 27 percent enrolled in private, for-profit institutions – compared 23 percent who are enrolled in four-year institutions. 

Regarding their financial aid, this group of students is more likely than their counterparts to be low-income and have a zero Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) when applying for federal financial aid, which normally would translate into qualification for greater financial aid. However, these students are likely receiving less financial aid, including reduced Pell Grant awards, because they are enrolled less-than-full-time, the report states, noting that this is “a probable consequence of the delicate balance of college, work, and family with which these students contend.”

Less than 25 percent of independent students, regardless of race, are enrolled in college full-time, year-round. And while 62 percent of African American students receive some Pell support, the maximum Pell Grant award is only given to 14 percent of independent African American students. 

Similarly, how a student is enrolled can impact their access to other federal and state financial aid, the report notes. For example, 10 percent of independent African American Pell recipients also were awarded an institutional grant and 17 percent were given a state grant, compared with 25 percent and 33 percent, respectively, among their dependent counterparts.

The report concludes that financial aid on its own “is not sufficient to retain and graduate low-income and underserved students,” noting that an analysis of six-year graduation rates of Pell students shows that over one-third of all Pell recipients leave college before completing a degree, as well as 43 percent of African American recipients and 52 percent of independent African American recipients.

“The National Urban League recommends that financial aid be coupled with personalized supports for students – an approach that has already shown promising results in state higher education systems and individual institutions,” according to a press release accompanying the report. Furthermore, NUL calls for strengthening the Pell Grant “to fill the gap between rising tuition costs and decreasing state investment.”

“The purchasing power of the Pell Grant must be strengthened so that it continues to serve as a key resource to help needy students to access higher education,” NUL stated in the release. “The recommendations include increasing the lifetime Pell Grant eligibility and restoring the ability to access the Pell Grant throughout the year.”

Last year, in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, NASFAA convened a Reauthorization Task Force, which also recommended strengthening the Pell Grant Program by increasing the lifetime eligibility and reinstating year-round Pell. For more on the HEA reauthorization, visit NASFAA’s HEA Reauthorization Center.


Publication Date: 8/14/2014

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