Analyzing the College Affordability Act: Changes to Pell and Other Grants

By Megan Walter, NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff

Updated Nov. 6, 2019: A markup of this bill took place over three days from Oct. 29-31, 2019 — after the article below was written. An amendment in the nature of a substitute replaced the original bill text, and multiple amendments were adopted during the markup process. The substitute amendment and additional amendments made several minor changes, and this article has been updated to reflect those updates.

Editor's Note: This article is the first in a series of six that delves into Title IV-related issues contained in the College Affordability Act, the House Democrats' bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. This article details the proposed changes in the College Affordability Act affecting the Federal Pell Grant and other federal grant programs. See all of NASFAA's coverage of the College Affordability Act.

Pell Grants

Under the College Affordability Act (CAA), Pell Grants would see a one-time $625 increase to the maximum award and an increase to the limit for the Pell Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) from 12 semesters to 14 semesters. Additionally, for students who do not use their full LEU during their undergraduate course of study, they may apply any unused LEU toward post-baccalaureate studies. The CAA would also exclude any time during which students who were harmed by institutional fraud or misconduct for which they would have been eligible for discharge of their student loans from their Pell LEU limit. The maximum Pell Grant for academic year 2021 would be $6,820 and would increase automatically to $8,460 over the next decade.

Pell Grants for Short-Term Programs

Pell Grants would be extended to short-term programs under the CAA for certain eligible students and programs. Only students who have not previously completed a post-baccalaureate degree would be eligible.

Eligible programs would have to be offered by an accredited institution that has had no adverse action to its accreditation status in the previous five years, and the offered program must be included on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Eligible Training Programs list. The program would also have to be between 150 and 600 clock hours spanning between eight to 15 weeks and have annual earnings greater than the median earnings of a person with a high school diploma alone.

Pell Grants for Incarcerated Individuals

Incarcerated individuals under the CAA would now be eligible to receive Pell Grants for programs of study offered through partnerships with eligible institutions. To be eligible, the institution would need approval from both the Department of Education (ED) and its accrediting agency or association. The institution must also meet a handful of other requirements including that it may not have had any adverse action to its accreditation status in the previous five years, it must provide incarcerated individuals with academic credits that are equivalent to credits earned by non-incarcerated students, and it must be able to provide incarcerated students with a process to access their education records.

The amount an institution may charge an incarcerated student is also strictly regulated in the CAA. The maximum an institution can charge can only be: 

  • For Pell eligible students, the lower of the cost of attendance (COA) or the amount of gift aid they receive; and 

  • For non-Pell eligible students, the lower of the COA or the amount of their Expected Family Contribution. 

Institutions participating in the program would be mandated under the CAA to distribute disclosure information for interested students, including information such as COA, mode of instruction, how enrollment will impact their maximum period of Pell eligibility, the transferability of credits, and the process for continuing their education at the institution after the student’s period of incarceration — including any barriers to admission because of criminal history. 

TEACH Grant Program

Under the CAA, the grant amount an eligible student can receive under the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program would be dependent on their grade level at their institution. Junior and senior undergraduate students would be eligible to receive up to $8,000 in the TEACH Grant each academic year while they are enrolled in an eligible program, while freshman and sophomore students would only be eligible to receive up to $4,000 per award year.

The CAA also expands eligibility for TEACH Grant awards to include associate degree-level studies, capping the aggregate TEACH Grant limit for that program level at $8,000. Eligibility for the grant would also be extended by including early childhood education to the list of eligible fields of study and adds a definition for teacher preparation programs, saying that it can be a regular program, or an alternative route to certification. 

The bill would also aim to improve current TEACH Grant legislation that has allowed grants to be incorrectly, or prematurely, converted to loans. The new language would not allow loan conversion until the point in time when it would be impossible for a recipient to fulfill their service obligation in the remaining service period, and grants recipients the right to appeal a grant-to-loan conversion. In addition, ED would be required to notify students of deadlines for submitting employment certifications — as well as when recipients have failed to submit those certifications — and allow the use of electronic signatures. 

In addition, the CAA would ensure that for students who had started their service at an eligible institution, but that institution’s designation changes, the student’s teaching duties change, or their teaching field is no longer considered high-need, would not lose their eligibility. 

Competitive Grant Programs

The Jumpstart to College Grant program, would be created under the CAA to assist eligible low-income institutions to support their early college, or dual or concurrent enrollment programs, or to create new ones. Funding could be used for activities like student support services, teacher professional development, outreach programs, and work-based learning, as well as for tuition, fees, books, and equipment.

The CAA would also create a competitive grant program for community colleges established under the Community College Student Success Grant program, which would go toward developing and implementing programs designed to increase graduation rates within 150% of program length window, and transfer rates.

The CAA also creates a Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa College Access Grant program, which would provide governors of those areas grants to award to eligible institutions that enroll students from the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. Funds would be used to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at those institutions, up to $15,000 per student.

Finally, CAA authorizes remedial education grants, to go to eligible institutions for the purpose of improving postsecondary remedial education.


Publication Date: 10/18/2019

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